HONG KONG (AFP) ― Hong Kong police have arrested at least 22 people during a series of protests targeting a senior Chinese official visiting the city, authorities said Tuesday.
The city has been plunged into political crisis after pro-democracy activists vowed to take over the streets of the city’s financial district following Beijing’s refusal to grant citizens full universal suffrage.
In the kind of scenes that would be unthinkable on the mainland, Li Fei, a senior member of China’s rubber stamp parliament, has been dogged by angry demonstrations throughout his visit to the former British colony ― including lawmakers heckling him during a speech Monday.
Li is in town to explain China’s controversial proposal to control who stands for the top post in the city’s next leadership election, a decision that has prompted pro-democracy activists to embark on what they describe as a new “era of civil disobedience.”
Protesters have kept a vigil outside Li’s hotel with renewed scuffles breaking out late Monday evening.
“During the protest, the participants forcibly pushed the mills barriers, charged the police cordon line and dashed onto the carriageway,” police said in a statement published Tuesday.
Officers made 19 arrests outside the luxury Grand Hyatt Hotel in the Wan Chai district of the city late Monday. Eighteen of the protestors were arrested for “unlawful assembly,” the statement said. The other activist was arrested for obstructing a police officer.
Earlier in the day, police used pepper spray on demonstrators at a convention centre on the outskirts of the city where Li gave a speech that was punctuated by regular interruptions by protesters and pro-democracy lawmakers.
Three people were subsequently arrested for disorder in a public place, police told AFP, adding that they were still being detained as of early afternoon on Tuesday.
Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying said Tuesday his government supports the reform proposal put forward by the standing committee of Beijing‘s National People’s Congress while admitting “some” people were not satisfied.
But he called on detractors think hard about campaigning against the city‘s first shot at limited universal suffrage.
“We should ask ourselves ... what is the relationship between Hong Kong and the central government?” Leung said. “Do we want universal suffrage in chief executive elections in 2017 and thereafter?”
The NPC standing committee said Sunday Hong Kong citizens will be allowed to elect their next leader in 2017 -- but candidates must be chosen by a pro-Beijing committee and must win the backing of more than half of the committee members to stand.
Only two or three will be allowed to stand for election, in a system which democracy activists have called a betrayal of Beijing’s promise to award Hong Kong universal suffrage by 2017.
Chinese authorities, meanwhile, have demanded Britain drop an inquiry into the progress of democratic reforms in Hong Kong, accusing it of “highly inappropriate” interference in its affairs, the BBC reported Monday.
Britain handed Hong Kong back to China on July 1, 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement which allows civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including free speech and the right to protest.