Hong Kong police get protective upgrade to fight threat of 'local terrorism'

About HK$500 million (S$89.27 million) will be used to buy police protective gear and special equipment. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong, grappling with months of sometimes violent anti-government unrest, is to spend about HK$500 million (S$89.27 million) on police protective equipment, including six armoured vehicles, to help combat the threat of "local terrorism".

Police chief Chris Tang was speaking on Monday (March 2) after the government announced in its budget last week that police funding would be HK$25.8 billion, up 25 per cent from the previous year, drawing widespread criticism from pro-democracy activists.

About HK$300 million will be used to buy protective gear, and HK$200 million will be used for special equipment, including replacing six armoured vehicles and buying more water cannon.

The figure includes a planned upgrade in protective gear of HK$10,000 for each of its 28,000 frontline officers.

Commissioner Tang said he was concerned about a spike in the number of youths violating the law, two days after more than 100 people were arrested following a protest that turned violent.

"We have to beware of local terrorism. In the past nine months, we have discovered explosives in 11 incidents," Commissioner Tang said at a press briefing.

"I think we have to face the reality that there is a new normal. The new normal is that things cannot go back to one year ago."

Anti-government protests escalated in June last year, plunging the former British colony into its biggest crisis in decades and posing the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

The city had seen a relative lull in violence until black-clad protesters, some armed with petrol bombs, returned to the streets on Saturday in some of the worst clashes so far this year.

The weekend arrests took the total since June to more than 7,500, Comm Tang said.

Around 40 per cent of those were students, of which 60 per cent were from universities and 40 per cent from secondary schools.

The number of arrestees under the age of 18 who committed criminal damage had jumped to 50 per cent in January, up from 5 per cent in June/July, he said.

"The situation of young people violating the law in relation to the anti-extradition Bill is getting worse," Comm Tang said, referring to the now-scrapped law that triggered the protests, which have evolved into a broader democracy movement.

The government said last week it was adding more than 2,500 officers to the colony's 35,000-strong police workforce.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee of freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, which the protesters say are being eroded by Communist Party rulers in Beijing. China denies meddling.

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