HONG KONG, Sept. 30 (UPI) — As China prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary on Tuesday, Hong Kong is bracing for what may be one of the largest showdowns yet in nearly four months of clashes between demonstrators and police.
Activists on Monday warned that China will be desperate to clamp down on dissent on as it celebrates its National Day with a massive parade and show of military might in Beijing.
At a briefing with reporters, members of an activist group called the Citizens Press Conference said Tuesday’s anti-China protests will be a “milestone” in the movement and acknowledged they are bracing for a violent crackdown by authorities.
“[The authorities] have one single goal, of bullying Hong Kongers into silence,” said a spokesman for the Citizens Press Conference, who remained anonymous behind a mask and helmet.
The spokesman said that recent spate of arrests and increasingly violent tactics by police are “means to threaten us not to stand up for ourselves on the 1st of October.”
In a series of skirmishes, protesters hurled Molotov cocktails and bricks at government compounds while police were quick to deploy tear gas, water cannons, pepper spray and rubber bullets.
In one particularly violent incident in the Admiralty section of Hong Kong, police rushed into a crowd of protesters, wildly swinging shields and batons and causing multiple injuries. Hospital authorities said more than 40 people were hospitalized on Sunday, with one in serious condition.
Another scene widely shared on social media saw an undercover agent firing a live round from a pistol into the air to scatter protesters that had surrounded him.
“With their lives under serious threat, an officer fired one warning shot into the sky to protect their own safety,” the Hong Kong police said in a statement.
The Hong Kong police on Monday announced that they were upholding a ban for an official rally to take place on Tuesday, warning of security concerns.
Bonnie Leung, a spokeswoman for the Civil Human Rights Front, the organizing group which had applied to hold the rally, said the decision showed that Hong Kong was continuing to lose its freedoms under the “one country, two systems” arrangement with Beijing that has been in place since 1997.
“It is a very disappointing judgment and we are very sad to say that Hong Kong is having less and less freedom and is becoming more and more like Beijing,” Leung told reporters on Monday after their appeal was denied.
Hong Kong’s protest movement began in response to a proposed extradition bill that would have made it easier to send fugitive criminal suspects to mainland China for trial, but has evolved into a movement looking to hold onto autonomy in legal and political affairs.
The protesters have put forth five demands, which include not just the withdrawal of the extradition bill, but an investigation into police brutality during the demonstrations, amnesty for arrested protesters and direct elections to choose the city’s politicians.
Despite the official ban, veteran activists and pro-democracy legislators announced on Monday that they were still planning to hold a rally on Tuesday, citing their right to assembly under Hong Kong’s constitution, known as the Basic Law.
“We all have the right to march and we are just exercising our basic rights,” Lee Cheuk-yan, a former member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, told reporters. “Even though we may be threatened with arrest tomorrow, we still believe we should have the right to do so and we call upon the people of Hong Kong to exercise our rights under Basic Law.”
The spokesman for the Citizens Press Conference also called for crowds to take to the streets, while foreshadowing the potential for a violent outcome.
“Of course we do not want to see bloodshed, we do not want to see people getting arrested,” he said. “But on the other hand if the police are out of control tomorrow, we cannot guarantee [anything]. And it is the authoritarian regime of Hong Kong and the Chinese Communist Party that teaches us that peaceful demonstration is futile sometimes.”