Anti-government protesters are gearing up for a showdown this weekend and on National Day, with or without police approval, as a major pro-democracy group plans two demonstrations on Hong Kong Island.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which organised two successful marches in June and on July 1, has sought police approval to march on National Day, as protesters debate among themselves whether to stage a show of unity or take guerilla-style district level action next Tuesday.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the front said it had applied for letters of no objection from police for a rally at Tamar Park in Admiralty on Saturday, and a march from Causeway Bay to Central next Tuesday.
The rally will mark the fifth anniversary of the 2014 Occupy movement, while the march will be held on the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.
Front vice-convenor Wong Yik-mo said people should "mourn" rather than celebrate on National Day.
"For the past 70 years, we have seen countless people being sacrificed, suppressed and killed by the state," Wong said, citing the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and jailing of the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo as examples.
To avoid clashes, the government will be moving a flag-raising ceremony on the morning of National Day and the cocktail party afterwards indoors.
Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, the front's convenor, conceded that he did not have high hopes for police approval, adding that his group would have "no choice" but to scrap the protests if they were banned.
"Whether police approve [the march], we urge people to dress in black on [National Day]," Sham said.
The front's previous applications to march on August 31 and September 15 were rejected by police.
On both occasions, despite the bans, thousands of protesters took to the streets and hardcore demonstrators clashed with officers, throwing petrol bombs. Police fired two live rounds as warning shots on one occasion.
Sham said if they received approval for the coming protests, the front would urge participants to express their views peacefully and lawfully.
A police insider said: "The force is still mapping operational plans for the weekend and National Day."
On LIHKG, an online forum frequented by protesters in Hong Kong, there have been calls for action in Kowloon on National Day if the front's application is denied. This would involve blocking roads in various districts, such as Wong Tai Sin and Sham Shui Po, before gathering in Mong Kok.
Another plan calls for people to rally in five districts, so they can attend one near their residence in case the MTR Corporation shuts down train services.
Some users cautioned that the lack of a consensus could thin overall crowd size and cause confusion.
Others floated plans to besiege the Sha Tin Racecourse ahead of a National Day race and disrupt traffic to the airport.
Separately, an online group in support of the protests, known as Stand With Hong Kong, said about 50 cities from more than 20 countries would stage demonstrations against totalitarianism on Saturday and Sunday in a display of solidarity with Hongkongers.
Rallies and marches will be held in Berlin in Germany, Washington in the United States as well as in Taipei, Taiwan.
During a related press conference on Wednesday, masked speakers read out letters from three unnamed protesters who fled to Taiwan after demonstrators stormed the Legislative Council on July 1.
All three expressed regret over leaving Hong Kong, wishing they had stayed on to continue the fight.
"What Hong Kong needs now is a complete reform of the sociopolitical system - this is our only way out," one letter stated.
"May we see this through to the day our beautiful city is reborn."
Meanwhile, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and the Presbyterian Church, which reportedly took in Hongkongers seeking refuge in Taiwan, declined to comment on whether they had done so.
A Hong Kong student based in Taipei said some people had sought help from NGOs.
"They should know by now that it will be unlikely they can obtain political asylum in Taiwan, given the absence of such a law," the student said, adding that people could remain on the self-ruled island by studying or obtaining a work permit.
Asked if he knew whether such individuals were still in Taiwan, he said: "I am afraid most of them should have returned to Hong Kong."
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.