HONG KONG - Clashes again broke out in Hong Kong, this time in a town near near its northern border with Shenzhen, as black-clad protesters marched in Sheung Shui in the New Territories to voice their unhappiness against parallel importers.
Though the march started and ended peacefully, tensions flared when protesters remained, and police in riot gear used pepper spray to disperse them.
Building on the momentum of the anti-extradition movement in recent weeks, demonstration organisers, the North District Parallel Imports Concern Group, estimated 30,000 people turned out in support on Saturday (July 13).
Police put the figure at 4,000 at the peak of the protest.
Protests appear to be straying into more local issues, with the group’s spokesman Ronald Leung criticising the government and the local district council for turning a blind eye to rampant tax evasion by parallel traders.
These importers, mainly of drugs and cosmetics, reap huge profits by selling on the mainland their duty-free stocks bought in Hong Kong.
Critics say activities by parallel importers have negatively affected the district’s retail mix, pushed up rents and worsened hygiene conditions because of the huge influx of tourists and traders from the mainland.
The protesters, chanting “district councillors are useless” and “enforce the law”, marched through streets where dozens of drug stores and cosmetic shops were located.
They demanded the government scrap the one-visit-per-week policy for Shenzhen residents, blacklist parallel traders, strengthen law enforcement against the occupation of street space and improve hygiene in the area.
Ahead of Saturday’s rally, pharmacies that the mainland Chinese visitors and parallel traders frequent have been cautioned to shutter if safety becomes an issue during the protest.
POLICE FOUND HELMETS, GOGGLES BEING DISTRIBUTED NEAR SUBWAY STATION
The police issued a statement on Saturday evening, noting that the Sheung Shui march ended at around 5pm, "but clashes broke out when some protesters argued with other people at the scene and attempted to charge at officers when the police intervened".
Police said they found a large number of equipment such as helmets and goggles were being “distributed premeditatedly” near MTR Sheung Shui Station along Lung Sum Avenue, Lung Wan Street and San Wan Road.
Some protesters demolished the railings and blocked the roads using water barriers and miscellaneous objects, the police added. They urged protesters and the public to leave the area and not break the law.
At around 7.45pm, the police warned that officers would soon clear the crowds as the situation was chaotic. Most of the protesters heeded the warning.
A young protester, who reportedly was frightened by a police officer charging towards him with a baton, jumped over a barrier, not realising that he was on an overhead bridge.
Fortunately, bystanders managed to hold on to him before policemen pulled him to safety, according to legislator Andrew Wan, who witnessed the incident.
Last Saturday (July 6), some 2,000 people took to the streets in Tuen Mun, also in New Territories, to protest against the nuisance, which they said, was a result of mainland Chinese women singing and dancing in a park in the district.
Fresh calls online have been circulating the past week for netizens to join planned protests this weekend and next.
On Sunday afternoon, another anti-extradition march has been called for in Sha Tin, New Territories, while the organiser of some of the biggest rallies the past month, the Civil Human Rights Front, has said it would hold a march on July 21.
In the past month, Hong Kong has been plagued by a series of protests that were sparked by Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s move to introduce amendments to the existing extradition law.
The extradition Bill would have allowed for suspects to be transferred from Hong Kong to other jurisdictions for prosecution, including to China, where protesters distrust the legal system.
Protesters are demanding that the government fully withdraw the Bill and not just suspend it indefinitely; retract the label of June 12 as a riot; release all protesters arrested so far; conduct an inquiry into allegations of police brutality; and for universal suffrage.
June 12 was the day the Bill was to be read a second time in Parliament, but protesters formed a human wall around the government offices, preventing lawmakers from accessing the Legislative Council (LegCo).
It was also the day when tensions spiraled and violent clashes broke out before the police fired rubber bullets and tear gas, with dozens injured and arrested.
Tensions again soared on July 1 - the 22nd anniversary of the handover of the territory by the British to the Chinese - when a group of protesters stormed the LegCo, and vandalised the chambers.
Mrs Lam has said that protesters who broke the law will not be granted amnesty, that prosecutorial decisions will not be swayed by any labels, and that the Bill has died a natural death since the government will not be pushing it through Parliament.