Hong Kong protests update: Police fire pepper pellets at crowd ahead of national anthem law debate
If the anthem bill becomes law, anyone who misuses or insults China's national anthem, the March of the Volunteers, would face a fine of up to HK$50,000 ($6,449) and up to three years in prison. Besides this, new national security laws proposed by China have revived anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong.
Riot police in Hong Kong fired pepper pellets to disperse protesters in the heart of the global financial centre on Wednesday, as new national security laws proposed by China revived anti-government demonstrations.
Police also surrounded the Legislative Council where a bill proposed by the Hong Kong government was due to be debated that would criminalise disrespect of the Chinese anthem, amid soaring tensions over perceived threats to the semi-autonomous city's freedoms. Small protests are taking place in several locations, and dozens of people have been arrested.
The second reading of the bill criminalising insult of the Chinese anthem comes amid high anti-mainland sentiment.
Days ago, China also proposed implementing a controversial national security law which triggered a burst of unrest. Pro-democracy activists say that bill is a direct attempt to curtail the city's unique freedoms.
However, the city's leader Carrie Lam has denied that the national security law - which would ban treason, secession, sedition and subversion - would curtail the rights of Hong Kongers.
HONG KONG'S NATIONAL ANTHEM BILL
If Hong Kong’s National Anthem Bill -- which aims to govern the use and playing of the Chinese national anthem -- becomes law, anyone who misuses or insults China's national anthem, the March of the Volunteers, would face a fine of up to HK$50,000 ($6,449) and up to three years in prison.
If it passes the second reading in the Legislative Council (Legco) on Wednesday, it could go to a third reading and a vote early next month.
Riot police surrounded the Legco building in Central, setting up a street cordon, but hundreds of protesters still gathered around lunchtime, blocking streets and chanting slogans.
Protesters and pro-democracy politicians say Hong Kong’s National Anthem Bill represents another sign of what they see as accelerating interference from Beijing. The bill orders that primary and secondary school students in Hong Kong be taught to sing the "March of the Volunteers", along with its history and etiquette.
WEDNESDAY ANTHEM PROTEST
People of all ages took to the streets, some dressed in black, some wearing office clothes, and some hiding their identities with open umbrellas in scenes reminiscent of the unrest that shook the city last year.
"Although you’re afraid inside your heart, you need to speak out," said Chang, 29, a clerk and protester dressed in black with a helmet respirator and goggles in her backpack. A call to gather around the Legislative Council was scrapped due to a heavy presence of riot police.
Many shops, bank branches and office buildings closed early. Dozens of people were seen rounded up by riot police and made to sit on a sidewalk.
Protests have returned to the streets of Chinese-ruled Hong Kong after Beijing proposed national security laws aimed at “tackling secession, subversion and terrorist activities”. The planned laws could see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in the semi-autonomous city.
The move triggered the first big street unrest in Hong Kong in months on Sunday, with police firing tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters.
The United States, Australia, Britain, Canada and others have expressed concerns about the legislation, widely seen as a potential turning point for China's freest city and one of the world's leading financial hubs.
Police said they had arrested at least 16 people on Wednesday, aged 14-40, for alleged crimes including possession of offensive weapons, possession of tools for illegal use and dangerous driving.
Protesters in a downtown shopping mall chanted "Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times" and "Hong Kong independence, the only way out", but dispersed as lookouts shouted a warning to "go shopping!" at the sight of police vans outside.
One protester was seen with a placard reading "one country, two systems is a lie", referring to the political system put in place at Britain's 1997 handover of the city to China that is meant to guarantee Hong Kong's freedoms until at least 2047.
Chinese authorities and the Beijing-backed government in Hong Kong say there is no threat to the city's high degree of autonomy and the new security laws will be tightly focused.
"It’s for the long-term stability of Hong Kong and China, it won’t affect the freedom of assembly and speech and it won’t affect the city's status as a financial centre," Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung told reporters. "It would provide a stable environment for businesses."
Hong Kong's most prominent tycoon, Li Ka-shing, said in a statement security laws were within every nation's right, but Hong Kong had the "mission-critical task" to maintain trust in "one country, two systems".
Hong Kong media reported Beijing had expanded the scope of the draft security legislation to include organisations as well as individuals. The law was being revised to cover not just behaviour or acts that endanger national security, but also activities, broadcaster RTHK and the South China Morning Post reported.
US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said Washington this week would announce a strong response to the planned security legislation for Hong Kong.
HONG KONG SHARES SLIDE
The US-China Business Council (USCBC) urged "all leaders to take those steps necessary to de-escalate tensions, promote economic recovery and the rule of law, and preserve the 'one country, two systems' principle."
Asian shares slipped over rising tensions between the United States and China. Hong Kong shares led declines with the Hang Seng falling 0.46%, though it kept a bit of distance from a two-month low touched on Monday.