Hong Kong protesters consider toning down the violence

A group of masked protesters vandalise Diamond Hill station in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong on Oct 7, 2019.
A group of masked protesters vandalise Diamond Hill station in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong on Oct 7, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

They fear attacks may alienate moderate supporters, split pro-democracy movement

HONG KONG • Hong Kong protesters are debating whether to dial down the violence and destructive tactics as the battered financial centre braces itself for another weekend of tear gas and petrol bombs.

Worried that ongoing violence would risk alienating more moderate supporters, some activists have urged others to scale back the vandalism that has shut shops, banks and train stations across the city.

One post circulating on LIHKG - a Reddit-like forum popular with Hong Kong's youth - warned that further violence risked creating internal splits within the broader pro-democracy movement.

"The general public, including foreigners, will think the violence is escalating to the point of being indiscriminate," the user wrote in a post that has garnered more than 3,000 "upvotes", putting it among the most popular posts that day.

Yesterday, hundreds once again marched throughout the city's central business district, disrupting traffic as they held up banners and placards. Many were wearing masks in defiance of Chief Executive Carrie Lam's invocation of a rarely used emergency law last week to ban protesters from wearing face-coverings at rallies.

The peaceful gathering yesterday came after tens of thousands of people flooded Hong Kong's streets a week ago following the mask ban.

Angered over corporate moves to support the government, protesters targeted shops, train stations and state-owned Chinese bank branches for vandalism.

Rail operator MTR Corporation, which protesters accuse of colluding with police and stifling their movements, was forced to shut almost its entire network last Friday and Saturday. Many of the stations continue to close early at night for repairs.

 
 
 

Hong Kong has been mired in unrest since the movement escalated four months ago in opposition to a now-withdrawn Bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China.

So far, the movement has enjoyed resilient support in the former British colony as it expanded to include calls for greater democracy. But recent violent episodes, including protesters ambushing police, throwing petrol bombs at officers, beating a taxi driver and punching a JPMorgan Chase employee from mainland China have tested the public's tolerance.

"At the moment, the balance still tips in favour of the protesters because of the various misdeeds and brutality on the part of the police, but the balance may turn," said pro-democracy activist and retired political science professor Joseph Cheng. "The coming week will be quite critical."

Since the huge protests on China's National Day on Oct 1, police have arrested some 500 people, including 90 for violating the mask ban, and fired almost 2,000 rounds of tear gas.

But not everyone shares the view that vandalism should be reduced.

On Thursday, a group of protesters who earlier disrupted transport links to the airport published a plan on LIHKG to pressure commercial establishments tomorrow, including a colour-coded guide to which establishments should be boycotted or vandalised based on their level of support for the authorities.

 
 

There are others who worry that the violence could sap international support, especially as the US Congress considers legislation that would require annual reviews of Hong Kong's special trading status. The Chinese government has denounced the Bill, which threatens some US$38 billion (S$52 billion) of US trade with Hong Kong, as inappropriate interference in the country's domestic affairs.

Some protesters also do not want the violence to be used as a pretext to delay district council elections scheduled for Nov 24, when many activists are hoping to win seats.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2019, with the headline 'Hong Kong protesters consider toning down the violence'. Print Edition | Subscribe