Police swoop on abode protesters
Stella Lee and Shirley Lau
More than 300 police and immigration officers yesterday cleared dozens of abode seekers from Chater Garden after protesters trapped Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee in her car for an hour on Wednesday night.
Police Commissioner Tsang Yam-pui said officers decided to clear abode seekers from the area because emotions were running high and there was a risk of further unrest.
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa condemned the incident in which enraged abode seekers mobbed Mrs Ip's chauffeur-driven BMW outside the Legislative Council Building. 'Hong Kong is a law-abiding society and everybody must abide by the law,' he said.
Six people appeared in court yesterday after allegedly helping to surround Mrs Ip's car.
Last night, police were accused of using excessive manpower and force in Chater Garden. The operation was the largest since the abode saga began in 1997.
Three abode seekers identified as overstayers were arrested and a reporter and a TV cameraman handcuffed during scuffles with officers yesterday afternoon.
Mr Tsang said the police action was necessary and reasonable. 'The behaviour of those right-of-abode seekers and supporters at Chater Garden as displayed [on Wednesday night] was irresponsible and is not to be tolerated,' he said. He added that police would continue to adopt a firm approach in dealing with violent and threatening behaviour.
About 300 police officers marched into Chater Garden and cordoned off the area at 3pm. They began removing the protesters 45 minutes later, helped by about 50 immigration officers who conducted identity checks.
Several officers carried struggling abode seekers. Some claimants broke down in tears as they were taken away from Chater Garden, which was cleared in about 20 minutes. The abode seekers have been staging rallies there since January 10 when the Court of Final Appeal ruled that the vast majority of 5,114 appellants did not have right of abode.
Father Franco Mella, who has been helping the abode seekers, tried in vain to persuade Central District Commander Chief Superintendent Wong Pak-nin that there were no grounds for removing the claimants. They had previously been granted permission to stay at least until April 29.
Father Mella and former abode seekers' leader Chan Yan-yan were later surrounded by police officers to prevent them from leading the claimants to resist the clearance.
Father Mella said no overstayers had been invited to take part in rallies in Chater Garden. 'We did not invite overstayers. I doubt if the police's action was legal. It was an abuse of power and I am very shocked,' he said. 'Those who besieged Regina Ip's car were not our people. The Government shouldn't hold the incident against all [right-of-abode seekers].'
The vice-chairwoman of an abode-seeker parents' group, Ngan Siu-lai, last night condemned the police for using excessive force and manpower. 'There were only 100 people at Chater Garden at about 2.30pm. Some of them had left by the time they cleared the site. But there were hundreds of police and immigration officers. We're only asking for family reunions,' Ms Ngan said, adding that the action would further infuriate the abode seekers.
But Mr Tsang said the operation was successful and peaceful and officers used no force.
He said the action was needed as the emotions of the abode seekers had reached a point where he felt a threat existed.
'The most important point is that the people who staged the rally [on Wednesday night] appeared to be emotional and it is possible that similar incidents may happen in future.'
He said the overstayers joining a rally at Chater Garden yesterday afternoon had breached conditions under which such a demonstration was allowed to take place.
The police action was taken in accordance with the Public Order Ordinance and if the abode seekers insisted on using the site as their rallying point, they could lodge an appeal.