Road closures a flashpoint during tense marches
Police blamed protest groups' street stalls for the slow progress of yesterday's pro-democracy march, as activists' calls for more lanes to be closed to traffic led to clashes.
As the night wore on, a stand-off developed between police and thousands of radicals who surrounded the central government's liaison office. Police warned that they were engaged in an illegal gathering. After a slow start to the march, which police said was caused by stalls reducing the space available, all lanes of Causeway Road and Hennessy Road were closed. A few sections of the tram line were also closed.
The first scuffles broke out at 4pm when members of the Democratic Party broke through police barricades and spilled onto the tram lines in Causeway Bay, while League of Social Democrats members later clashed with police at the Victoria Park exit, the rally's starting point.
At about 9.20pm, school pupils from the group Scholarism took over two lanes of Queensway outside the High Court as they continued their march from the main rally's final destination, at government headquarters in Admiralty, to the central government's liaison office. They were followed by League of Social Democrats members and an estimated 10,000 protesters from People Power, who marched along Des Voeux Road West, closing all four lanes.
Members of the three groups last night surrounded the liaison office. People Power members burned copies of the Basic Law and the Joint Declaration and threw paper planes with the face of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on them into the compound. At 11.20pm, heavy rain dispersed protesters.
Earlier in the day, protesters said they had taken two hours to get from the park to Bowrington Road. But Carmen Lo Ka-man, deputy regional police commander of Hong Kong Island, said stalls and protesters who joined the rally midway were responsible for the slow flow. She denied police had mishandled the crowd, saying officers had been 'dealing with it very professionally'. 'Outside Sogo [in Causeway Bay], there were a lot of people jumping queues. En route, there were also many small teams joining from different intersections, thereby slowing down [the movement of] the whole march,' she said. 'This has actually created a very, very serious bottleneck in the queue.' She said those who waited at Victoria Park had become impatient.
Eric Lai Yan-ho, of organiser Civil Human Rights Front, said the police argument was ridiculous. 'The booths are part of the march. They should have opened the lanes earlier,' he said. The number of booths was similar to last year.
Albert Chan Wai-yip, of People Power, said the flow was never slow in the past. 'They only want to create conflict between protesters and people who are going to see fireworks,' Chan said. 'It's a conspiracy.'
Jat Sew-tong, chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Council, observed the protest with 14 members. He said Causeway Road was not designed for protests, so it was hard for police to prepare for bottlenecks.