Legco protesters must exercise self-restraint

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 2:50am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 8:12am

Protests in Hong Kong are nothing new. And given the controversial nature of the proposed development in the northeastern New Territories, opposition is to be expected. While the public has the right to object, demonstrations should be staged according to the law. Regrettably, those trying to block funding for the project with rowdy protests at the Legislative Council have failed to do so.

It is a shame that the latest one on Friday ended in chaos and forced lawmakers to abort a vote on the HK$340 million funding request for preliminary works on two new towns in Fanling North and Kwu Tung. Police had to subdue the crowd with pepper spray in the early hours on Saturday, after some protesters tried to storm into the council building with bamboo poles.

This is not the first time the project has been greeted with violence. From district consultations to Legco meetings, those opposing the plan have sought to make themselves heard with force. The involvement of some social activists is said to have pushed the campaign further. While the activists have the same right to protest as the villagers affected, they have to abide by the law. Their actions, however, were clearly a departure from our fine tradition of demonstrating in a peaceful manner.

Admittedly, the northeast development is highly contentious. It involves complex issues like zoning, land resumption, compensation and development rights. So large is the scale and so high are the stakes that the project is bound to stir emotions and resistance. That said, there are established channels to deal with the issues involved. Advancing one's course with violence is unacceptable.

First mooted six years ago, the HK$120 billion blueprint is part of the crusade to meet the city's housing needs. The new towns will be home to nearly 175,000 residents by 2031. It is in the public interest to get on with the project.

Worries are growing that protesters will be even more emotional when lawmakers resume their discussions on Friday. The Legco chief noted yesterday that some radicals took the lead to gatecrash Legco, and there is advice spreading on the internet telling people how to follow suit. He rightly urged villagers to stay away from them. Hong Kong is a lawful society. It is imperative that protesters exercise self-restraint and act within the law. The Legco authorities and the police should step up security lest the situation gets out of control.