Police yesterday said a surprise ban on roadside political stalls along the route of a protest against Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on New Year's Day was the result of an assessment which found the rally posed a higher risk to public safety than the annual July 1 march.
And they insisted the ban would remain - despite the pan-democrats earlier calling the ruling detrimental to democracy and vowing to defy it. They were only told of the unusual ban earlier this month.
Cheng Yiu-mo, Senior Superintendent of Hong Kong Island, said in a press conference yesterday: "On this occasion, the circumstances are very special … after a professional risk assessment, we consider it is necessary to impose the conditions."
The force cited an ongoing product fair - the Hong Kong Brands and Products Expo - at Victoria Park, where the protest will start, as well as "special circumstances" of a public holiday where tourists are expected to pack the city's streets.
"Certainly if we find street stations causing obstruction, we will first advise that they be removed. If the persons concerned do not listen to the advice, then we will take appropriate action," Cheng said. "Of course, arrests [would be] one action but only under exceptional circumstances."
At least six other rallies will be held on New Year's Day, including one organised by Falun Gong and another by democracy activists. Supporters of Leung also plan to gather at Tamar, where the anti-Leung protest is scheduled to end.
Cheng said he was confident that no clashes would erupt between protesters although he refused to say how many police officers would be deployed.
He said that during this year's July 1 protest "the risk was certainly not as big". "There was no Hong Kong expo and it was not New Year's Day. Also there were no back-to-back protests."
The Independent Police Complaints Council said last night it would be observing police conduct on Tuesday.
The developments came as the chief executive's approval rating dropped below the 50-point pass mark for the third time since he took office in July.
Leung scored 48.9 out of a 100-point scale in a Chinese University survey conducted from December 18 to December 22 in which 758 adults were interviewed by telephone. The rating was down 1.1 point from a similar survey in November and slightly higher than the record-low 48.8 points recorded in September.
Researchers at the university's Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies said Leung lacked public trust after the scandal over unauthorised works at his Peak home. Leung has apologised and promised to rectify the problems by the end of January.