HK unrest spills over to malls, varsities

HONG KONG - NEARLY three months after police cleared away the last of Hong Kong's pro-democracy street protests, lingering anger is stoking a new front of radical activism that has turned shopping malls and university campuses into a fresh battleground.

While still relatively few in number, a cluster of outspoken groups have staged small but disruptive protests in recent weeks targeting mainland Chinese visitors - tapping a seam of grassroots resentment to call for greater Hong Kong nationalism and even independence from China.

More than 100 such activists descended on New Town Plaza, a mega-mall a short train ride from the border, on a recent Sunday to harass the day-trippers who stream across daily to shop, eat and do sightseeing.

The mainlanders - 40.7 million of them visited the city of seven million last year - spur the local economy, but also exasperate locals by clogging streets and emptying store shelves of cosmetics, baby formula and other essentials.

"Away with the locusts and barbarians," read one banner as protesters roved through the bustling mall, tailed by police officers.

"Go back to China," protesters shouted at visitors, including an elderly Chinese woman who fled with her trolleyload of shopping.

"We don't want you!"

Shops were closed and the police pepper-sprayed some activists and made several arrests amid chaotic scenes.

A pro-Beijing newspaper, Wen Wei Po, thundered that the "radicals", some of whom waved a British colonial flag, were "inciting the foul culture of Hong Kong independence".

China's People's Daily called on mainlanders to stand up to the "demonisation" of Chinese shoppers, rather than "remain passive and be silent".

Tensions have also spiked on university campuses between Hong Kong students - many of whom participated in the protests - and their mainland counterparts, who now make up a sizeable portion of student bodies.

Elections for the student union at the elite University of Hong Kong turned into a slanging match, when a Chinese student was accused of being a Beijing spy and subjected to personal attacks.

A student at City University, Timson Kwok, gave up his student union campaign during last year's demonstrations, telling Next magazine in an interview that two people who hinted they were working on behalf of Beijing had offered him money and power to help "de-radicalise" the Hong Kong Federation of Students, a major force in the protests.


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