Hong Kongers planning fresh rallies for next two weekends

In messages circulating on social media and online, anonymous protesters have called for fresh rallies on July 13, 14 and 21 in Sheung Shui, Shatin and Tseung Kwan O, all three of them in the New Territories. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

HONG KONG - Mass rallies are in the works for the next two weekends as protesters continue to press the government to fully withdraw the extradition Bill, especially as the strain of the past month's demonstrations deepens within the pro-establishment group.

In messages circulating on social media and online, anonymous protesters have called for fresh rallies on July 13, 14 and 21 in Sheung Shui, Shatin and Tseung Kwan O, all three of them in the New Territories.

Some also started circulating plans on Monday (July 8) to "stress test" the Bank of China in their bid to put pressure on the city's pro-Beijing leaders.

One proposal that went viral asks people to collectively withdraw funds from the bank on July 13 to "stress test" its liquidity.

Besides the Bank of China, another target is Hong Kong broadcaster TVB, which protesters view as pro-government.

Suggestions range from marching to the TV station to boycotting products advertised on its channels.

On Monday, Mr James Tien of the pro-government Liberal Party said he and three fellow honorary chairmen would ask party chairman Tommy Cheung to resign from the Executive Council (Exco), in a sign of the widening divide within the pro-establishment group.

"I think all those who supported the government to charge ahead after June 9 should resign," Mr Tien said, adding that at least two other Exco members - Mr Ronny Tong and Ms Regina Ip - should also step down from the Exco for supporting the contentious Bill.

Mr Tong and Ms Ip both rejected the call for them to resign.

Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Tong said there is an "extremely unhealthy and extremely irresponsible phenomenon" for people to "make up false accusations against public figures and demand that they apologise or even resign", without specifically referring to Mr Tien's comments.

Said Ms Ip: "The substance of the Bill has no problem. It's just that the Bill has unfortunately been highly demonised by those opposed to it."

At the same time, some pro-democracy lawmakers such as the Democratic Party's Lam Cheuk-ting and the Hong Kong Journalists Association have slammed the police for using what they called excessive and unnecessary force on Sunday night to clear the streets in Mongkok.

Earlier, on Sunday afternoon, protesters had marched from the Tsim Sha Tsui shopping area to the West Kowloon train station. Organisers said some 230,000 people took part, but the authorities pegged the number at 56,000.

After the rally ended, some protesters who stayed behind marched along Canton Road and Nathan Road before they were intercepted by riot police in Mongkok.

Police officers clearing the streets of Mongkok on July 7, 2019. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Scuffles broke out as police armed with shields and batons tried to disperse the group.

A police statement issued early on Monday said five protesters were arrested "for assaulting a police officer and obstructing a police officer", while another was arrested during the peaceful rally for failing to produce proof of identity.

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Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told The Straits Times on Monday that Chief Executive Carrie Lam needs to come out and face the people.

"She's been hiding for a week now and we don't know what's going on. I think she should disband her Cabinet, the Executive Council and have a new start and properly address the people's demands," said Ms Mo.

Hong Kong has been rocked by a series of anti-extradition mass rallies since June 9, when one million people took to the streets in protest.

Tensions peaked on June 12 - the day the extradition Bill was scheduled to be tabled for a second reading in the Legislative Council (LegCo) - when some protesters clashed with police outside the government headquarters in Admiralty. Dozens were arrested.

On July 1, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from British back to Chinese rule, more than 100 protesters stormed the LegCo, vandalising the building's facade and interior.

The protesters are demanding that the Bill be completely scrapped rather than suspended indefinitely.

They also want the authorities to release all protesters arrested so far; remove the characterisation of the June 12 protest as a "riot"; set up an independent investigation into accusations of police brutality; and for Hong Kong to have universal suffrage.

The proposed Bill, if passed, would allow Hong Kong to send suspects to the mainland for trials that critics say could be unfair and opaque.

Asked whether the movement is gradually losing its momentum, Associate Professor Dixon Sing of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology said given that the government has only suspended the Bill and has not made any other concessions, the movement will continue.

"The momentum of the movement is now manifesting in localised activities which vary in diversity and targets, but the diversity of activities reflects the underlying and persistent Sino-Hong Kong tension, like the the rally at Tuen Mun park," he said, referring to the rally against noisy street performers in Tuen Mun last Saturday.

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"It showed the widespread discontent of the people not just in Tuen Mun but also in Hong Kong with the so-called encroachment of Hong Kong's culture by the intrusion of mainlanders," Prof Sing said.

"They find that the Hong Kong government has not done anything effective to protect the local culture or to maintain social harmony for Hong Kongers," he added.

Ms Mo thinks the movement is actually "gaining" in momentum although the actions may be scattered.

"It's now obvious that Hong Kong people are neither giving in nor giving up. We are proud and we will persevere," she said.

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