Legco seals off protest zone over safety fears at new town development meeting

Up to 1,000 police expected to form human barrier during meeting, amid safety fears over protests against plan to build new towns

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 11:15pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 June, 2014, 7:43am

The drop-off area and protest zone outside the Legislative Council building will be closed today and 800 to 1,000 police officers sent in for a showdown with protesters fighting the government's plan to build two new towns near the border.

Preparations were finalised yesterday as at least two more activists were arrested, including a 15-year-old boy who allegedly posted a guide to storming the building on the internet. It included tips such as how to break windows and avoid injuries.

A police source said the youth was a former member of radical group Civic Passion and had taken part in various protests, including the rowdy gathering outside Legco last Friday that halted a Finance Committee meeting.

Protesters today will only be allowed to gather in a zone further away on Tim Mei Avenue, outside Legco premises.

A co-organiser of the protest, Keith Au Kwok-kuen of the Land Justice League, said this set a bad precedent as it meant they would be at the mercy of police. But he said they would stay in the area.

However, Civic Passion refused to give such an assurance. The group's founder, Wong Yeung-tat, said they would make a decision depending on the situation at the scene, but some members would be scattered around the Legco building.

Last week protesters used bamboo poles to try to pry open the doors to the Legislative Council complex. Police responded with pepper spray.

Ivan Lam Long-yin, a 19-year-old former member of student activist group Scholarism, was arrested on suspicion of illegal assembly. He was released on bail.

Police have now arrested 23 people. People Power chairwoman Erica Yuen Mi-ming was also held on suspicion of blocking the exit of the Legco car park with her car last Friday.

Protesters were trying to prevent lawmakers voting on the government's request for HK$340 million in preliminary funds to build the towns in the northeastern New Territories.

Speaking after a Legco Commission meeting yesterday, Legco President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said only 10 members of the public would be allowed to watch the Finance Committee from the gallery, and no visitors would be allowed in Legco after 2.30pm.

The Legco Secretariat and the police faced a dilemma during last week's protest. Police could not intervene in the area until they received a call for help from Legco's secretary general, Kenneth Chen Wei-on.

Tsang said the zone was designed for peaceful protest and "it will set a very bad precedent if we ignore the safety threats and continue to open the area".

However, Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing, a member of the Legco Commission, said the decision could "send a bad message".

"Some people may see the headline and say: 'Oh wow, they are undermining freedom of expression and protest'. That, I think, is the fear of some of the members of my party," Lau said.