Tags: Hong Kong | protesters | protests | pro-democracy

Hong Kong Protesters Say Bring on Tear Gas If Poll Tussle Looms

Image: Hong Kong Protesters Say Bring on Tear Gas If Poll Tussle Looms
Hong Kong counter-demonstrators carry banners reading 'Anti-Occupy Central' during a march on August 17.

Sunday, 24 Aug 2014 12:23 PM

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists say they want police to use tear gas and water cannon on them if China doesn’t meet their demands for the election of the city’s next leader.

A confrontation may come as soon as September should China’s top political body, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, this week impose an electoral system that doesn’t meet international standards or leave room for further debate, said Benny Tai Yiu-ting, founder of protest group Occupy Central for Peace and Love. At least 10,000 people will sit in the main streets of the central business district waiting to be arrested by police, according to Tai, a University of Hong Kong law professor.

“We want them to use tear gas and water cannon,” Tai said in an interview that focused on the group’s strategy. “The chance for civil disobedience to win is you get the sympathy of the whole community.”

The threat has divided the city with tycoons, business groups and officials warning protests could turn violent and damage the city’s reputation as a global financial center. Tens of thousands joined an Aug. 17 march staged by a counter movement called Alliance for Peace and Democracy to protest Occupy Central’s planned action.

Robert Chow, a spokesman for the Alliance, said 1.5 million signatures have also been gathered agreeing to the statement: “I oppose violence. I oppose ‘Occupy Central.’ I support peace in Hong Kong. I support democracy in Hong Kong.”

International Standards

“It is up to the legislators who say ‘we want international standards’ to negotiate with China,” said Chow. “Why bring turmoil into Hong Kong. Why Occupy Central? Why punish us?”

The Alliance’s march was clouded by allegations in local media that supporters who favor the government in Beijing paid participants to attend and booked restaurants to give out free meals. Chow said there were only a few such instances and it would have been better if those who were paid hadn’t turned up.

China adopted Hong Kong’s Basic law, a mini-constitution, in 1990 and agreed to allow at some point Hong Kong citizens to elect their chief executive by universal suffrage once candidates have been nominated by a committee. In 2007, a target date of 2017 was set.

Basic Law committee Chairman Li Fei said Aug. 22 that the election methods must be based on the mini-constitution rather than any so-called international standards.

Public disquiet stirred after the Chinese government in June published a white paper that said the city’s chief executive and judges must be “patriotic,” and that the city’s autonomy, stated in the handover agreement for the former British colony, is bestowed by China.

Sharp Influence

Occupy Central is inspired by a civil-disobedience playbook set out by Gene Sharp, a U.S. academic whose work has inspired non-violent uprisings from Egypt to Serbia, Tai said. Sharp, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, argues that once authorities use violence against unarmed protesters they lose the sympathy of the rest of the population, leading to a shift in public opinion to support the protesters.

Hong Kong police, numbering about 28,500, would unlikely be able to disperse 10,000 or more peaceful protesters without having to resort to violence, said Tai.

Hong Kong’s police referred e-mailed questions to a June 4 statement by Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok which said the force would “take corresponding measures” against infringement of the law, which include blocking traffic and road access. It didn’t mention the means at the police’s disposal for breaking up protests.

Tai said he doubts China would turn to China’s People’s Liberation Army troops garrisoned in the city even after a former Chinese official in the city said they might be needed to restore order.

Tiananmen Square

“I don’t think the PLA will need to come in, because the police have the tear gas and water cannon - surely they can disperse us,” he said. “If they bring in the soldiers, that will be even more disproportionate.”

China deployed the PLA in 1989 to crush protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, unleashing a storm of international protest. People in Hong Kong mark the anniversary with a candlelit vigil, drawing more than 100,000 to this year’s event.

An annual July 1 march to mark the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China swelled to the biggest protest in a decade this year. A student-led sit-in that followed the rally blocked bus routes and resulted in the arrest of more than 500 protesters for illegal gathering.

Students will consider a strike and further action should the NPC rule out civil nominations of candidates, said Alex Chow, secretary general of the the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

Occupy Central, which isn’t insisting on civil nomination, wants to raise public awareness before taking any action.

“By making our plan known about from the very beginning, we generate public discussion,” Tai said. “It’s part of the social awakening process.”

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Hong Kong pro-democracy activists say they want police to use tear gas and water cannon on them if China doesn’t meet their demands for the election of the city’s next leader.
Hong Kong, protesters, protests, pro-democracy
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2014-23-24
Sunday, 24 Aug 2014 12:23 PM
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