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Roads blocked as HK protests spread

hkThousands of people have remained on the streets of Hong Kong for another day of pro-democracy protests, defying tear gas and ignoring appeals to leave.

Overnight, riot police advanced on crowds who ignored official warnings that the demonstrations were illegal.

Protesters are angry at Chinese government plans to vet candidates in Hong Kong’s 2017 elections.

Hong Kong’s chief executive reassured the public that rumours the Chinese army might intervene were untrue.

“I hope the public will keep calm. Don’t be misled by the rumours,” CY Leung said.

“Police will strive to maintain social order, including ensuring smooth traffic and ensuring public safety.”

Thousands of protesters remained camped out around the government complex overnight, despite appeals for them to go home. Many have erected barricades.

And in a sign that the unrest was spreading, fresh demonstrations sprang up in other areas.

About 3,000 people blocked a major road across the bay in Mongkok while a crowd of about 1,000 faced a line of riot police in the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay, east of central Hong Kong.

Protesters in the financial district. 28 Sept 2014Activists camped out in Hong Kong’s financial district overnight
A protester raises his arms as police officers try to disperse the crowd near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on 29 September 2014 On Monday police continued to try to disperse protesters around the government HQ

Ahead of rush-hour on Monday, police issued a statement urging protesters to “stay calm, stop charging police cordon lines and occupying the main roads”.

The Hong Kong Education Bureau also announced on Monday that schools in Wan Chai as well as the Central and Western districts would be closed.

In other developments:

  • More than 200 bus routes have been cancelled or diverted; some subway exits in protest areas have been blocked
  • Several banks have suspended operations in affected areas
  • Police said they arrested 78 people on Sunday, after 70 arrests on Saturday.
  • In the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, a group of protesters gathered outside the Hong Kong cultural office in a show of support
  • President Ma Ying-jeou said Taiwan was closely watching the situation in Hong Kong

Police have so far used batons, tear gas and pepper spray against demonstrators, with varying degrees of success.

However, protest leaders have called on demonstrators to retreat if rubber bullets are used.

“This is a matter of life or death. If their lives are threatened they should retreat and save their lives,” said professor Chan Kin-man, a co-founder of the Occupy Central group.

The broader Occupy Central protest movement threw its weight behind student-led protests on Sunday, bringing forward a mass civil disobedience campaign due to start on Wednesday.

In a statement on Monday, the movement called on Mr Leung to step down, saying “only this will make it possible to re-launch the political reform process and create a space in which the crisis can be defused”.

China, which stations a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Hong Kong, said it was confident the city’s administration could handle the protests.

A spokesman for China’s Hong Kong and Macau affairs office said that Beijing “firmly opposes all illegal activities that could undermine rule of law and jeopardise ‘social tranquillity’ and it offers its strong backing” to the Hong Kong government, Xinhua news agency reports.

However, analysts say Communist Party leaders in Beijing are worried that calls for democracy could spread to cities on the mainland.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees liberties not seen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and the right to protest.

Grey line

Hong Kong democracy timeline

  • 1984: Britain and China sign an agreement where Hong Kong is guaranteed “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs” for 50 years following the handover in 1997.
  • 2004: China rules that its approval must be sought for changes to Hong Kong’s election laws.
  • 2008: China says it will consider allowing direct elections by 2017.
  • June-July 2014: Pro-democracy activists hold an unofficial referendum on political reform and a large rally. This is followed by protests by pro-Beijing activists.
  • 31 August 2014: China says it will allow direct elections in 2017, but voters will only be able to choose from a list of pre-approved candidates. Activists stage protests.
  • 22 September 2014: Student groups launch a week-long boycott of classes in protest.

(Courtesy – BBC)

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