The latest mass rally in Hong Kong is underway but marchers have been denied permission to march to the city’s government offices, a day after police announced they had seized a cache of explosives and were investigating possible links to a pro-independence group.
The territory has been locked in its biggest political crisis since the handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997, hit by a series of demonstrations over the past month against an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China to stand trial. Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, has withdrawn the legislation and declared it “dead” but that has not assuaged protesters’ concerns — the largely peaceful marches have continued to attract tens of thousands of Hong Kongers.
In recent weeks, however, the tension has ratcheted up and occasionally descended into violence. Running battles in a luxury shopping mall last weekend saw 28 hospitalised and one officer lose part of a finger. Police said they had made 47 arrests.
Organisers of Sunday’s protest had planned to march through central Hong Kong past government offices to finish outside the city’s court of appeal. The demonstration will now terminate about 1km away after organisers lost an appeal against the police ruling.
The march comes a day after police said they had found explosives in a factory complex, as well anti-extradition bill posters and T-shirts bearing the name of the Hong Kong National Front, a pro-independence group. The police said they had made three arrests in relation to the discovery of the explosives and were investigating alleged links to the group.
Alex McWhirter, a senior bomb disposal officer, told reporters on Saturday that a “homemade laboratory” to manufacture high-end explosives had been discovered on Friday night, in what he called “the largest seizure we have come across in Hong Kong”.
The Hong Kong National Front confirmed on social media that a 27-year-old man had been arrested and was a member of the group. It added that it had no knowledge of the explosives and said the warehouse facility had been used to store audio equipment and promotional materials.
Beijing has been trying to stifle a budding independence movement in Hong Kong where a small number of groups believe that a clean break from China is the only way to defend the territory’s freedom.
Some groups are calling for universal suffrage, but the protesters’ main demands are for the extradition bill to be withdrawn completely, for charges against protesters to be dropped and for an independent inquiry into excessive use of force by police.
Police deny heavy-handed tactics and blame protesters for instigating the violence.
Sunday’s protest comes a day after a rally organised by pro-Beijing groups in Hong Kong to support the police and condemn violence by demonstrators. Organisers said more than 300,000 attended, with police saying the rally attracted closer to 100,000.
“We don’t know what people are fighting for, they are taking some drastic action which we don’t believe represents the core values of Hong Kong — like violence. They don’t speak for us,” said a 51-year-old accountant at the event, who gave only her surname, Chan.
The Junior Police Officer’s Association issued a public statement last week calling on senior officers to evaluate whether those at the front line of the protests have the right equipment and tactics to guarantee their safety. It said it would be seeking legal advice if the physical and mental health of its members could not be secured.
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