Mong Kok riot

Minister denies legalising street food stalls during Lunar New Year due to Hong Kong riots

Proposal to allow 40 vendors in ‘suitable’ location comes nine months after violent Mong Kok riots, which stemmed from hawker crackdown

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2016, 3:44pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2016, 9:53pm

Hong Kong’s health minister has denied a government proposal to legalise street hawkers during the 2017 Lunar New Year period was related to the Mong Kok riot in February, which was triggered by a crackdown on illegal street food sellers.

Dr Ko Wing-man’s comments on Sunday came after the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department submitted a proposal to the Yau Tsim Mong district council to set up a cooked food bazaar from January 28 to 30 for 40 hawkers in a “suitable” outdoor location.

It is the first time the government has sought to legalise street food businesses after decades of illegal operations and official crackdowns during the festive period. The proposal comes nine months after the Mong Kok riot, which began just hours after 2016 Lunar New Year. The riot began as a protest against a crackdown on illegal street food hawkers and escalated into a violent clash between citizens and police.

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“We did not consider [the proposal] because of any specific incident,” Ko said during a public event Sunday.

“We have however considered that citizens, during Chinese New Year, may be interested in enjoying traditional Hong Kong snacks and cooked food on the street. Some business operators may also feel there are larger flows of people during this period and they can do better business.

“Given that there is such demand, we have the responsibility to consider whether there is a way or location to make such operations safer without affected public order.”

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Ko said the government established a task force during the last Legislative Council year for lawmakers to discuss street market policies.

According to the preliminary proposal, 40 street food stalls would be allowed to operate between noon and 2am during the three-day period. Locations such as Macpherson Playground would be considered. For safety reasons, only electricity would be allowed for cooking.

Ko said the government would have an “open attitude” and respect district councillors’ opinions on the proposal. The proposal will be discussed at the district council on Thursday.