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Hong Kong in partial shutdown as clashes, protests continue

Hong Kong protests (Studio Incendo/WikiCommons)
November 15, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at black-clad, masked protesters wielding a variety of makeshift weapons across Hong Kong on Thursday, as schools and universities closed and overseas students poured out of the city.

The government issued a statement denying widespread media reports that the authorities are planning to implement a curfew, although early shutdown of subway services and widespread road closures across the city had a similar effect.

“The government today dismissed rumors concerning the implementation of curfew in Hong Kong over the weekend,” the statement said. “The rumors are totally unfounded.”

Protests continued across the city despite transportation shutdowns, with large numbers of protesters gathering on Thursday in the Central business district and students rebuilding barricades and stockpiling makeshift weapons including bows and arrows on university campuses following raids by riot police earlier in the week.

Mourners also gathered in Tseung Kwan O district to pay their respects to Chow Tsz-lok, a Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) student who died falling from a parking garage as police conducted a dispersal operation.

People laid flowers, candles and origami cranes at a shrine set up to honor Chow, in keeping with the Chinese tradition of marking seven full days after the death of a loved one.

Roads across the city were blocked by protesters and local residents with bricks, while street lights were dark and barricades were set up as a form of neighborhood defense against raids by riot police.

At the Polytechnic University (Poly U) in Hung Hom, students built a meter-high wall of mud and brick with a roadblock in the middle, stopping vehicles as they passed by.

Some drivers tore down roadblocks in person, causing traffic jams as cars tried to inch their way through.

PLA Garrison

Protesters made a brief appearance near the Gunhuishan Military Camp, which houses part of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison, where both riot police and armed soldiers could be seen from outside.

The Hong Kong Garrison is deployed at 14 military sites across Hong Kong, but the city’s Garrison Law bars it from involvement in local affairs. However, it is permitted to lend assistance to maintain security if requested by the city authorities.

Flash protests took place across Hong Kong Island, with protesters blocking Queen’s Road East near Taikoo Place, setting up barricades using bus stops and traffic barriers, and digging up bricks to strew across the road surface.

Riot police were dispatched to the New Territories town of Sheung Shui, near the border with mainland China, at around 5.30 p.m. after a large crowd gathered there.

Police fired pepper spray and tear gas at the crowd, but police appeared to be staying away from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), scene of a forced raid by police firing more than 1,000 tear gas canisters and large quantities of rubber bullets chased a crowd of students across the campus.

Spokesman and chief superintendent John Tse said the police had entered the campus in spite of attempts to mediate by its president Rocky Tuan because they suspected protesters were “building an arsenal” of weapons there.

“The police haven’t given up; we are just using methods other than force to handle the situation in a peaceful manner,” Tse told reporters.

He said two people were in critical condition following clashes on Wednesday: a 70-old-man hit in the head with a brick; and a
15-year-old schoolboy who was believed to have been hit by a tear gas canister.

The South China Morning Post reported that the 70-year-old man, a cleaner who suffered a head injury in a clash between anti-government protesters and residents in Sheung Shui, died at Prince of Wales Hospital late Thursday night.

Overseas student exodus

Meanwhile, the University of Hong Kong and City University announced the suspension of class until the end of the semester, as overseas students continued to leave Hong Kong en masse.

Dozens of mainland Chinese students were taken by police launch to the neighboring city of Shenzhen, across the internal border on Wednesday, while 71 Taiwanese students arrived back home after being evacuated by the democratic island’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC).

Around 80 South Korean students were also evacuated by special bus from CUHK on Wednesday, Yonhap news agency reported, while the MAC said it is making arrangements to fly more Taiwanese students home.

Many more were preparing to follow them on Thursday, according to a South Korean student surnamed Kim.

“I’m going back to Korea,” Kim said, adding that he hadn’t yet completed his studies. “Many of my friends are leaving, so we are also leaving.”

He said there had been scant information from the CUHK authorities.

“The school just told us to stay safe … no lesson for today; they said they will keep us updated later,” he said, adding that he didn’t know when he might return.

Some 18,000 international students are currently studying at eight universities in Hong Kong.

US legislation advances

In Washington, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) hit out at the authorities’ handling of the Hong Kong clashes.

“The escalating violence in #HongKong is extremely concerning and the premeditated attack on university campuses, where over 1k rounds of teargas were used, raises disturbing questions as to whether the #Chinese govt’s strategy is to create more chaos & new protests,” the commission said via its official Twitter account.

“We condemn authorities’ use of excessive force and support demands for accountability, political dialogue, and the protection of democratic freedoms promised by #Beijing in the Sino-British Declaration, an international treaty,” it said.

Hong Kong’s government hit out at “interference by foreign legislatures” after the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission suggested a review of the city’s human rights record and status as a separate trading entity, based on the authorities’ handling of the anti extradition and pro-democracy movement that has gripped Hong Kong since early June.

The statement echoed a number of claims that have appeared in media controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, namely that the anti-extradition movement is driven by a desire for independence, rather than an attempt to hold onto traditional freedoms.

“Freedom of speech is not absolute,” the statement said, citing “relevant international human rights convention and court cases.”

It said the report’s findings that the authorities were engaging in the political screening of election candidates — including debarring former 2014 pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong — and in politically motivated prosecutions of activists and protesters were untrue.

U.S. Senators meanwhile moved to accelerate passage of legislation mandating a review of Hong Kong’s human rights situation annually and to take sanctions against officials linked to rights abuses in the city, following passage of similar legislation by the House of Representatives on Oct. 15.

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Jim Risch, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chairman, launched a  process for the Senate to quickly pass their Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act by unanimous consent.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would require the U.S. State Department to report annually to Congress whether Hong Kong is “sufficiently autonomous from China” to justify unique treatment, and whether China has “eroded Hong Kong’s civil liberties and rule of law,” as protected by the city’s Basic Law.

“The world witnesses the people of Hong Kong standing up every day to defend their long-cherished freedoms against an increasingly aggressive Beijing and Hong Kong government. Their cries have been met with violence, and young Hong Kong lives have tragically been lost,” Rubio said. “Now more than ever, the United States must send a clear message to Beijing that the free world stands with Hong Kongers in their struggle.