Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has cheered the city’s “return to stability” during China national day celebrations as hundreds of police in riot gear patrolled the route of a banned anti-government march by pro-democracy activists.
Protesters wanted to march against Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law on June 30 and demand the return of 12 Hong Kong people China arrested at sea in August on their way to self-ruled Taiwan.
Lam on Thursday attended a flag raising ceremony with other senior Hong Kong and mainland officials in a centre for exhibitions surrounded by police and security barriers.
“Over the past three months, the plain truth is, and it is obvious to see, that stability has been restored to society while national security has been safeguarded, and our people can continue to enjoy their basic rights and freedoms,” Lam said.
As she spoke, groups of officers in riot gear conducted stop-and-search operations along an expected marching route linking the prime shopping district of Causeway Bay with the administrative Admiralty district.
The planned protest was banned by police citing the coronavirus and violence at previous marches. The streets on Thursday were crammed with riot police and reporters and some protesters did march.
Police sent away any people who looked suspicious to them: one teenager playing protest songs into a woodwind instrument; a man dressed in black and holding a yellow balloon – colours associated with pro-democracy supporters; a woman holding a copy of the Apple Daily anti-government tabloid.
Four members of the League of Social Democrats, led by veteran activist Leung Kwok-hung, known as Long Hair, marched holding a banner reading “There is no national day celebration, only national mourning.”
Four is the maximum number of people allowed to gather under coronavirus restrictions.
“Hong Kong people have been sad and disappointed for a year. This is meant to be a holiday and the streets are full of police,” said 52-year-old Mandy as she was shopping with her husband.
“People are in no mood to celebrate. The government is using the national security laws and the pandemic to suppress our hearts.”
The October 1 China national day is resented by many democracy supporters who say Beijing is eroding the wide-ranging liberties the former British colony was promised when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.