Hong Kong authorities are preparing for a day of chaos on the city’s streets on Tuesday, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and metro stations and malls will close ahead of protests that they fear could turn violent.
There will be a “very serious violent attack,” the chief superintendent of the police’s public relations branch, Tse Chun-chung, told a news conference on Monday. “We are on the verge of extreme danger.”
Police said they arrested a total of 157 people, including 67 students, after a chaotic weekend in which tear gas and water cannon were fired at protesters who set fires and threw petrol bombs. Eight police officers were injured, they said.
Authorities are eager to avoid scenes that could embarrass the central government in Beijing on the eve of the anniversary after months of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests. Police said several major roads will be closed on Tuesday near the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where a flag-raising ceremony is scheduled to take place.
Authorities on Monday rejected a permit for a march planned for Tuesday from Victoria Park in the bustling tourist district of Causeway Bay to Chater Road, next to government headquarters, on security grounds. Demonstrations are expected across Hong Kong regardless.
Admiralty, Wan Chai, and Prince Edward metro stations will be closed, Mass Transit Railway (MTR) said on Monday. The airport-bound express train will only stop at the central Hong Kong station, and only people with air tickets will be allowed entry to the terminal.
Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed Monday to uphold Hong Kong's special status on the eve of a huge military parade in Beijing that risks being upstaged by more protests in the semi-autonomous city.
Some 15,000 soldiers will march across Tiananmen Square and the latest military technology will be displayed as part of the 70th anniversary celebrations, a patriotic show of strength to demonstrate the country's emergence as a global superpower.
But while Beijing is preparing for huge celebrations, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong threaten to steal the spotlight, with authorities in the financial hub Monday warning of increased violence by "rioters".
Last month, Beijing moved thousands of troops across the border into this restive city. They came in on trucks and armored cars, by bus and by ship.
The state news agency Xinhua described the operation as a routine "rotation" of the low-key force China has kept in Hong Kong since the city's handover from Britain in 1997. No mention was made of the anti-government protests that have been shaking the metropolis since June.
It was a plausible report: China has maintained a steady level of force in the territory for years, regularly swapping troops in and out. And days earlier, according to an audio recording obtained by Reuters, embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had told local businesspeople that China had "absolutely no plan" to order the army to put down the demonstrations.
A month on, Asian and Western envoys in Hong Kong say they are certain the late-August deployment was not a rotation at all, but a reinforcement. Seven envoys who spoke to Reuters said they didn't detect any significant number of existing forces in Hong Kong returning to the mainland in the days before or after the announcement.
Three of the envoys said the contingent of Chinese military personnel in Hong Kong had more than doubled in size since the protests began. They estimated the number of military personnel is now between 10,000 and 12,000, up from 3,000 to 5,000 in the months before the reinforcement.
As a result, the envoys believe, China has now assembled its largest-ever active force of People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops and other anti-riot personnel and equipment in Hong Kong.
Significantly, five of the diplomats say, the build-up includes elements of the People's Armed Police (PAP), a mainland paramilitary anti-riot and internal security force under a separate command from the PLA. While Reuters was unable to determine the size of the PAP contingent, envoys say the bulk of the troops in Hong Kong are from the PLA.
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