Hong Kong residents braced for more clashes on Saturday as protesters vowed to defy police orders and hold a rally that could pit them against triad gangs.
Demonstrators were preparing to march on Saturday afternoon in Yuen Long, in Hong Kong’s rural New Territories in the north of the city, where suspected triads attacked commuters and protesters with poles and rods last week, leaving 45 hospitalised.
Shops have begun to close in Yuen Long and staff at the Yuen Long shopping centre were taking away rubbish bins. Giant water barricades have been set up around the Yuen Long police station. Residents in villages have glued bricks to the ground, so they cannot be used by protesters.
Earlier in the week, the police rejected an application by protesters to hold a rally in Yuen Long on the grounds of potential clashes with the residents of the villages in Yuen Long where the triads are active.
The Hong Kong government on its Facebook page on Saturday told citizens to refrain from going to the Yuen Long protest, warning them against “defying the law”.
The attack in Yuen Long and response by authorities has plunged Hong Kong further into its worst political crisis in decades. Residents, activists, and opposition lawmakers have accused the government and police of colluding with the triads in an attempt to suppress a protest movement that has taken over the city for the last two months, a charge vehemently denied by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.
The demonstrations, initially triggered by a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, have turned into a referendum on the Hong Kong government and the city’s eroding freedoms under Beijing’s control. Beijing has labelled the protests riots and condemned the “extreme illegal violence”.
Over the past week, dozens of groups including civil servants, teachers, and aviation workers have joined the protest movement by issuing letters of condemnation and threatening “industrial action” if the government does not respond to the public’s demands.
The police have rejected another application by protesters to hold a rally in Sheung Wan where police and protesters clashed last week.
The denial of permission amounts to a ban on the protests, a move the police have not taken over the past seven weeks of demonstrations. Protesters have pledged to come out to the streets despite the ban, escalating the prospect of clashes with police.
To get around the ban, protesters have called on Hong Kongers to come for a “full-gear shopping day” in Yuen Long, in which protesters would don their protective gear to go shopping.
Others have called for a mass round of Pokemon Go. Some have sarcastically said they will be holding a memorial, which does not need police permission, for the late Chinese premier Li Peng, known as the “butcher of Beijing” for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, who died this week.
On Friday, thousands of protesters staged an 11-hour sit in at the Hong Kong airport. A pilot for Cathay Pacific, a Hong Kong carrier, alerted passengers upon landing that there was a “very peaceful and orderly demonstration” taking place in the arrival hall.
The pilot said: “So don’t be scared by all these people wearing black shirts … and feel free to talk to them and know more about Hong Kong if you want to, and last but not least, Go Hong Kong!”
Additional reporting by Verna Yu