Over 500 arrested for staging illegal Hong Kong sit-in

Over 500 arrested for staging illegal Hong Kong sit-in
A protester reacts as she is dragged away by policewomen on a street outside HSBC headquarters at Hong Kong's financial Central district July 2, 2014, after staying an overnight sit-in with fellow demonstrators.

More than 500 people, mainly students, have been arrested after staging one of Hong Kong's largest acts of civil disobedience. They were demanding that Beijing give the city more say in how it elects its leaders.

The illegal albeit peaceful sit-in at the financial district Central early yesterday marks a further escalation of tensions this hot summer over how the city should achieve long-promised universal suffrage rights in 2017.

Yesterday, central authorities hit back, with none-too-veiled reminders of how Hong Kong's destiny lies within its hands.

An Occupy Central protest, if out of control, will hurt Hong Kong, not the mainland, said an official from China's central bank.

"Policies already announced by the central government will go ahead as planned; as for the others, we don't know how they will be affected," said Ms Zhu Jun, the chief of the People's Bank of China International Department.

The state-run Chinese media also chimed in, with the Global Times asserting that the country "cannot give in" to the demands, while the People's Daily wrote that only "patriots" can hope to lead Hong Kong.

While Hong Kong has a tradition of peaceful and lawful protests and rallies, acts of civil disobedience are far rarer.

Led by students, yesterday's sit-in was inspired by a proposed Occupy Central movement to deadlock the financial hub as a threat to win greater democracy.

The sit-in galvanised 1,000-plus people unhappy with rules Beijing has drawn up on the democratic process, including that a "nominating committee" should sieve out "non-patriots".

Calling for "public nomination" instead, they settled down in Chater Road in the shadow of Hong Kong's towering skyscrapers following an earlier march from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. The permit for the event expired at midnight, which means that the overnight blockade was illegal.

Bodies packed the road - one of Central's main traffic arteries - stretching from the Hong Kong Club Building, past Mandarin Oriental Hotel, to St George's Building at Ice House Street.

At 3am, the police took action after repeated calls for the demonstrators to disperse. The organisers - the Federation of Students, comprising university unions - had said they would leave at 8am.

The demonstrators then marshalled themselves into rows, linking their arms, even as officers moved in swiftly with barricades. Despite fears of violence, including the use of pepper spray, the operation went fairly peacefully, with officers hauling them off one by one and bundling them into bus coaches. "We want genuine universal suffrage," sobbed one as he went up the bus.

The operation spanned 5½ hours, and the road was reopened at 9am. A total of 511 people were arrested and accused of illegal assembly and obstructing police officers in their execution of duty. Secretary for Security Lai Tung Kwok said the arrests were necessary to restore traffic, and law and order.

The rest of the sit-in participants had either left before the police moved in or were not arrested when they left the scene by 8am.

Despite the volley of criticisms from Beijing, Dr Benny Tai, an organiser of the original Occupy Central movement, said he is sanguine that pressure from the civic action will be factored in as "Beijiing officials do their calculations and count the costs (of ignoring public sentiment)".

He also argued that the exercise showcased the ability of both sides to handle a sit-in peacefully, and that this augurs well for Occupy Central, which will go ahead as a last resort if demands are not made. "The students clearly demonstrated they have the ability to organise non-violent action, and other citizens were willing to join in and follow their instructions."


This article was first published on July 03, 2014.
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