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Hong Kong: The city could face a restless weekend


China's leadership is as uncompromising as ever: activists are charged, a demonstration is banned. Hong Kong is facing a depressing weekend.

Little traffic on the otherwise dense roads. Visible gaps on the footbridges where people crowd on Friday evenings - some on their way home from their office towers, the others to start the weekend in the restaurants and bars of downtown Hong Kong.

But after weekend the city is not on this Friday. Passersby's faces are glowing in the light of their smartphones, many of them wiping their way through the many messages that the day has brought - and spreading a premonition that Hong Kong may be back in action after two weeks of relative calm.

Three messages dominate the day:

  • In the morning, news that Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow were arrested, two of the city's most prominent activists; both were released on bail. A third activist, Andy Chan, was arrested on Thursday. He is accused of having participated in riots and attacked police officers.
  • At noon the cancellation of the big demonstration, which was planned for Saturday, but was prohibited by the police.
  • In the afternoon, a message stating that the leadership in Beijing has made the Hong Kong city government even more explicit on how to deal with the ten-week protests that were previously known.

Trial of activists in November

The arrest of Wong, 22, and his political consort Chow, 22, came as a surprise. Wong became famous as a student leader during the so-called umbrella protests five years ago. Politically, he is still active, but he is not a leader as 2014. The protest movement of 2019 attaches importance to having no more publicly dominating leaders.

The prosecution accuses him of attending an "unauthorized assembly" at the end of June and calling on others to participate. After a hearing outside the Eastern District Court, he and Chow were released and called for new protests. On 8 November begins her trial.

It is not Wong's first trial, he has already served three prison sentences. But his arrest is a signal, "that in the coming days still mass arrested," says Wang's friend Avery Ng, who was present at the hearing. "I have been spared an accusation because I was in jail during the first weeks of the protests."

Video: China threatens with military use


Billy HC Kwok / Getty Images

If the demonstration of power aimed at a deterrent effect, it would rather have achieved the opposite. "We will continue our struggle no matter how much they arrest and persecute us," Wong said in the evening. And abroad, where he is still regarded as an icon of resistance, his arrest has aroused much consternation.

The human rights organization Human Rights Watch said in a statement of "spectacular failure" from Hong Kong and Beijing authorities. Wong and Chow campaigned for freedom of assembly and expression - "what are rights, not crime."

"Saturday will be big"

The ban on Saturday's major demonstration, which was confirmed on Friday, is also received with concern. The police justified their step with the sometimes violent riots of the past days, when it came for the first time to a warning shot of a policeman with live ammunition. The Civil Human Rights Front, which had applied for the protest march, withdrew its appeal. Out of consideration for the safety of potential participants, they have no choice, their spokeswoman Bonnie Leung said.

The cancellation of a single major rally could mean that there are several small demonstrations instead. This has aggravated the situation in recent weeks rather than reassured: held the few violent criminals in the large demonstrations out of consideration for the hundreds of thousands of peaceful participants mostly back, they challenged the police in the small protests even more.


Policemen in Hong Kong face demonstrators

That could happen again this weekend. "Saturday will be big," says an activist who has been there since the beginning of the protest movement - despite the official cancellation of the long-promised demonstration.

Five demands put the movement to the Hong Kong city government:

  • Free elections
  • An investigation of police violence
  • The non-application of the "riot" -array
  • Withdrawal of all previous charges
  • Withdrawal of the controversial extradition law that triggered the protests in early June.

The city government, the Reuters news agency reported on Friday, apparently considered considering two of the demands: the complete withdrawal of the extradition law and the investigation of police violence.

She failed. Reuters reports that the Beijing central government has rejected a report by Prime Minister Carrie Lam stating that concession on these two points could ease the situation in Hong Kong. "You said no," the agency cites an anonymous source. "The situation is much more complicated than most people realize."

The fact that Beijing can not even negotiate the withdrawal of a bill that has already been declared "dead" will only strengthen the suspicion of many oppositionists: The leadership in China apparently plans to make the protest movement of 2019 fail as uncompromisingly as the umbrella movement of 2014 But that would significantly increase the danger of further escalation.

The EU foreign ministers also see that. "The current developments make us worried," said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas after an EU meeting in Helsinki. "We still believe that the situation should not escalate further, that the people who take to the streets there exercise their right to assemble and express their opinions."

For two weeks, the protesters and the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing had time to talk again. At the moment, everything indicates that they did not succeed.

The extreme sultriness of the summer has disappeared in these two weeks. But the air over Hong Kong feels harder this weekend than ever.

Source: spiegel

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