HONG KONG: Hong Kong is preparing for a weekend of demonstrations, including a human chain at major MTR lines on Friday (Oct 18) and a democracy march on Sunday, the latest moves in more than four months of anti-government protests.
It has been two weeks since Carrie Lam, leader of the Chinese-ruled city, invoked emergency laws for the first time in half a century to ban face masks, hoping to quell protests. Instead, the city has been shaken by some of the most intense unrest to date.
Although the last few days have been relatively calm, with protesters staying off the streets, prominent human rights activist Jimmy Sham was brutally attacked on Wednesday, a move pro-democracy lawmakers said was meant to intimidate protesters and incite violence ahead of Sunday's planned march.
Police on Friday rejected a permit request for the march, citing public safety concerns.
Acting Chief Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung told reporters that similar events recently have "descended into chaos".
"Past experience showed that recent public order events are often hijacked by a group of radical protesters to commit violent acts like setting buildings on fire, hurling petrol bombs at police officers and into crowds, wrecking public properties, and launching brutal attacks on police officers and innocent citizens," he said.
"What is more alarming is that some rioters use homemade bombs in the recent protests. In another case, our officer was stabbed in the neck by a rioter, showing a clear intention to take his life."
An appeal has been filed for the march on Sunday to go ahead.
Thousands of people have defied police in the past and staged mass rallies, often peaceful in the start but descending into violence at night.
"We will not back down even after the attack on the Civil Human Rights Front convener Jimmy Sham. Our most powerful force is the unity and resistance of this civil society," said the rights group, calling on the public to rally on Sunday.
Hundreds of people are expected to join hands outside MTR stations in the city on Friday night, including in the central business district, prime shopping centres, the Kowloon peninsula and rural New Territories.
Previous large marches have seen families and children rally alongside activists over concerns Beijing is tightening its grip on the city in violation of the "one country, two systems" formula, which permits the city freedoms not available on the mainland such as an independent judiciary.
Beijing has rejected claims it is undermining rights in Hong Kong, and has accused foreign countries of fomenting trouble.
During her policy address this week, Lam did not address any of the protesters' demands.
Instead, she announced measures to ease Hong Kong's acute housing shortage - an issue that has partly fuelled anger for the protests because of the city's exorbitant property prices. Protesters largely brushed off her address, saying they would not give up until all of their demands were met.
Last month, Lam withdrew the controversial extradition Bill that kicked off the protests amid concerns it would expose Hong Kongers to the Chinese justice system.
The Bill's withdrawal was one of the protesters' key requests, but they say four others - an independent inquiry into police behaviour, a waiver for all people charged in the protests, removing the characterisation of the protests as "riots" and universal suffrage - must be addressed.
Many protesters have also called for Lam's resignation.
"WE CAN WEATHER THE STORM": POLICE
The crisis in Hong Kong is the worst since the handover and poses the biggest popular challenge to China's President Xi Jinping since he took power.
Riot police and protesters have fought street battles, with police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and occasionally live rounds against brick and petrol-bomb throwing activists.
Many Hong Kong residents are angry with what they believe is excessive force used by police.
Acting Chief Superintendent Kong said the violence has been "escalating and has reached an alarming level".
He cited an example where protesters attacked a school in Tiu Keng Leng, "smashing" its facilities and glass doors.
"They resorted to these radical acts as they allege the school did not respond to their demands. As a result, the school suspended classes for several days.
"We must firmly reject any barbaric acts regardless of one's motives or objectives."
Hong Kong's Commissioner of Police, Stephen Lo, said on Friday that his force was facing an unprecedented challenge.
"Our hearts are heavy; our responsibilities are immense. I remain steadfast in my conviction that we can weather the storm and restore the law and order for our city," he told a ceremony for past fallen officers.
Hardcore protesters have torched the city's metro stations and Chinese banks and scores of shops they believe are linked to mainland China. Many businesses have been forced to close.
Secretary for Transport and Housing, Frank Chan, said on Friday it would be weeks before the metro operated fully.
"It all depends on whether or not there will be incoming damage. If everything remains normal and there would be no further attack or damage, then I would say that one or two weeks would be possibly the target," he said.
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