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July 19, 2019
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Hong Kong protesters clash with police; demonstrations target Chinese traders

HONG KONG: A photojournalist falls down during clashes between protesters and police at an anti parallel trading march in Sheung Shui district in Hong Kong yesterday. – AFP )

HONG KONG: Hong
Kong protesters clashed with police yesterday in a town near the boundary with
mainland China where thousands rallied against the presence of Chinese traders,
seizing on another grievance following major unrest over an extradition bill.
The demonstration in the Hong Kong territorial town of Sheung Shui, not far
from the Chinese city of Shenzhen, began peacefully but devolved into
skirmishes and shouting. Protesters threw umbrellas and hardhats at police, who
retaliated by swinging batons and firing pepper spray. Later in the day Hong
Kong police urged protesters to refrain from violence and leave the area.

The protest was
the latest in a series that have roiled the former British colony for more than
a month, giving rise to its worst political crisis since its 1997 handover to
China. Sometimes violent street protests have drawn in millions of people, with
hundreds even storming the legislature on July 1 to oppose a now-suspended
extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be
sent to China to face trial in courts under ruling Communist Party control.

Critics see the
bill as a threat to Hong Kong’s rule of law. Chief Executive Carrie Lam this
week said the bill was “dead” after having suspended it last month,
but opponents vow to settle for nothing short of its formal withdrawal.
Protests against the bill had largely taken place in Hong Kong’s main business
district, but demonstrators have recently begun to look elsewhere to widen
support by taking up narrower, more domestic issues.

In Sheung Shui,
protesters rallied to oppose small-time Chinese traders who make short trips
into the territory to buy goods that they then haul back to China to sell. The
demonstrators chanted demands in Mandarin, China’s official language, for the
Chinese traders to go home. Many street-level shops were shuttered during the
march.

The traders have
long been a source of anger among those in Hong Kong who say they have fuelled
inflation, driven up property prices, dodged taxes and diluted Sheung Shui’s
identity. “Our lovely town has become chaos,” said Ryan Lai, 50, a
resident of Sheung Shui, where so-called “parallel traders” buy bulk
quantities of duty-free goods to be carried into mainland China and sold.

“We don’t
want to stop travel and buying, but please, just make it orderly and legal. The
extradition bill was the tipping point for us to come out. We want Sheung Shui
back.” When Britain returned Hong Kong to China 22 years ago, Chinese
Communist leaders promised the city a high degree of autonomy for 50 years. But
many say China has progressively tightened its grip, putting Hong Kong’s
freedoms under threat through a range of measures such as the extradition bill.

Democracy deficit

Hong Kong’s lack
of full democracy was behind the recent unrest, said Jimmy Sham of the Civil
Human Rights Front, which organized protests against the extradition bill.
“The government, Carrie Lam, some legislators in functional constituencies
are not elected by the people, so there are many escalating actions in
different districts to reflect different social issues,” he said. “If
political problems are not solved, social well-being issues will continue to
emerge endlessly.”

One protester
said yesterday’s scuffles started when demonstrators charged the police after
the latter came to the assistance of mainland traders who had assaulted
demonstrators. “Some people were attacked and got injured in a stampede. I
tried to save some girls so I was also attacked by pepper spray by police. Now
I feel so bad. The cops are dogs,” said the man, who would only give the
name Ragnar. Protesters ripped up median barriers and fences to set up
roadblocks and defenses.

A young man was
treated for a bloody head wound meters from where surrounded police were
hitting activists armed with umbrellas. A baton charge by police in riot gear
cleared the street minutes later to free trapped officers. “We have no
weapons and we were peaceful. When we saw them taking photos of us in the crowd
we had to react,” said another protester, surnamed Chan, who declined to
give his full name. “We are all scared now. How can they hit us with
batons?” he said, staring at a pool of blood where one of his peers was
treated.

Last week nearly
2,000 people marched in the Tuen Mun residential district to protest against
what they saw as the nuisance of brash singing and dancing to Mandarin pop
songs by middle-aged mainland women. On Sunday, tens of thousands marched in
one of Kowloon’s most popular tourist shopping areas, trying to persuade
mainland Chinese tourists to back opposition to the extradition bill.

“We want to
raise awareness in Washington that the United States has to do more now to help
Hong Kong become fully democratic,” said a resident of the nearby town of
Fanling, who was one of five people in yesterday’s crowd carrying US flags.
“They are the most important power left that can stand up to China,”
added the 30-year-old man, who gave his name only as David. Anti-extradition
protesters plan another demonstration on Sunday in the town of Sha Tin, in the
so-called New Territories between Hong Kong island and the border with China. –
Reuters

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