Legco lockdown: security stepped up for Friday vote on fiercely opposed new-towns project

Unprecedented security as lawmakers make second attempt to vote on controversial plan after hundreds stormed the building last week

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 2:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 3:10am

A lockdown will be imposed on the Legislative Council block on Friday when lawmakers will make a second attempt to vote on the government's plan to build new towns in the northeastern New Territories.

For the first time since the council moved to Tamar in 2011, the Admiralty building and car park will be closed to the public; lawmakers will be banned from receiving visitors; visiting tours will be cancelled and the Legco library will be closed.

In addition, only 10 spectators will be allowed into the 40-seat public gallery as Legco's Finance Committee gets down to deciding on HK$340 million of preliminary funding for the controversial development.

The vote was postponed from last Friday after hundreds of protesters opposed to the plan stormed the Legco building.

Announcing the unprecedented security measures yesterday after a special meeting with the Legco Commission, Legco President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said: "Among those who came on Friday, some appeared to be [employing] whatever violent means they could to break into Legco."

He was referring to an hours-long standoff in which the initially peaceful protest turned chaotic on news that the committee was about to vote. Protesters tried to pry open the doors to the building with bamboo poles and smashed glass panels. Police responded with pepper spray and 21 people were arrested.

"Messages have been spreading online in the past two days that … teach people how to break glass [windows] and protect themselves from getting hurt," Tsang said. "The messages even say those behind the glass are not their friends and that [protesters] do not have to care about the safety of those people."

Behind the discontent is the government's application to fund engineering works before town planners give their verdict on the dual-town plan, which is set to uproot many villagers.

Yesterday, 23 pan-democratic lawmakers urged Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and committee chairman Ng Leung-sing to postpone the funding request. But Tsang said if the government offered concessions, it might send "a very dangerous message" - that the use of violence could halt contentious policies. He asked lawmakers to consider letting their assistants take leave if they were not needed at the upcoming meeting. In a statement, the government urged lawmakers not to delay the process "just because of the drastic actions of some people".

Jaco Chow Nok-hang, an activist who was arrested last Friday and claimed to have been beaten by police, said the administration should improve its governance instead of turning the legislature into a "fortress". Chow said Tsang and other officials who claimed it was impossible to compromise on the dual-towns plan were responsible for the conflict.

Legco's House Committee vice-chairman Ronny Tong Ka-wah earlier asked Tsang why police entered the building last Friday without his consent. "It is up to the police to decide how to handle [the protest]," Tsang said. "We do not have the professional knowledge to deal with it."