Hong Kong is bracing for another weekend of mass demonstrations, with a protest march scheduled to take place Saturday in one of the world’s most densely populated areas.
The rally, which was given last-minute permission by the police late Friday, will mark the ninth consecutive weekend that Hong Kong citizens have taken to the streets over a controversial extradition bill.
Though the bill has since been shelved, the demonstrations have continued — throwing the city into a deepening political crisis amid calls for increased democracy and universal suffrage.
Police clashed with protesters in back-to-back demonstrations last weekend, firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse large crowds as bricks were thrown at officers.
More than 50 people have been arrested in connection with the protests since last Sunday. On Friday, police raided a facility connected to a outlawed pro-independence party, uncovering a variety of offensive weapons and suspected bomb-making materials.
Saturday’s main protest takes place in Mong Kok — one of the most crowded places in the world, with population densities of up to 130,000 people per square kilometer (52,000 per square mile). Though the official protest route is expected to skirt the main residential and shopping areas, an influx of thousands could pose difficulties for protest planners and police.
A gathering in support of the Hong Kong police will also be held on Saturday in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, titled “Give Peace a Chance.”
No end in sight
The Saturday demonstrations will be followed by two marches on opposite sides of the city on Sunday — one on the western side of Hong Kong Island, and another in Tseung Kwan O on the eastern tip of the New Territories.
Yet it’s Monday’s demonstrations that are likely to test the limits of both police and protesters. In the morning, demonstrators are planning to block Hong Kong’s bus and train system and attempt to spark a citywide traffic jam.
In the afternoon, protesters have pledged to gather in seven different Hong Kong districts to hold simultaneous demonstrations.
So far, police have only given permission for the Mong Kok and Tseung Kwan O protests. All other demonstrations will be unsanctioned.
More than 50 arrests
Police arrested eight people on Thursday night, including the leader of a banned pro-independence party, for possession of offensive weapons and suspected bomb-making materials.
It was the second major haul of protester weapons claimed by police in the past two weeks. On July 19, police announced they had found 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of high explosives and 10 petrol bombs in a raid in the city’s west, arresting three people.
Police have also stepped up arrests during the protests themselves. On Sunday, 44 people were arrested and charged with rioting — including a 16-year-old. The charge carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Chinese officials have taken a hard line on the protests. In his first statement since the protests began, the commander of the Chinese military garrison in Hong Kong said Wednesday that violence by pro-democracy groups “should not be tolerated.”
“We express our strong condemnation,” Maj. Gen. Chen Daoxiang said.
Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office spokesman Yang Guang made his first comments on the marches Monday, saying that the protesters were committing “evil and criminal acts” which were a threat to the city’s “stability.”
“No civilization or society under the rule of law would ever allow acts of violence to take place. We call on the general public of Hong Kong to be aware of the grave nature of the current situation,” Yang said.