Huge Hong Kong police operation ‘to prepare for the worst’ at three hotspots over holiday
At least 1,500 officers patrol Victoria Park fair, hawker zone and site of last year’s Mong Kok riot as force fears radicals may resort to ‘guerilla tactics’
The city’s largest Lunar New Year fair in Victoria Park is among three venues where at least 1,500 police officers will be mobilised over the holiday to guard against a repeat of last year’s Mong Kok riot, the Post has learned.
A police insider said the force had to “prepare for the worst” as it could not rule out trouble by pro-independence radicals using “guerilla tactics” after the government barred two political parties from operating stalls in the fair.
From Lunar New Year’s Eve on January 27 until the public holidays end on January 31, there will also be a strong police presence in Mong Kok, where mobs clashed with police and set fires after the festive period began last February, and Kweilin Street in Sham Shui Po – the hub of street hawkers.
One source told the Post that up to 1,200 officers, including personnel from the police tactical unit, emergency unit and plainclothes police would be on the ground to carry out surveillance and patrol around the three locations.
“Elite officers from the so-called ‘blue team’ [special tactical squad] will be among hundreds of other officers on standby to combat possible unrest,” he said.
“Although the security risk during the festive period is low, chaos could escalate quickly and we must prepare for the worst.”
Watch: Protest turned riot in Mong Kok
The elite squad comprises officers from the force’s counter-terrorism division and airport security unit. They are equipped with high-level anti-riot gear, including the newly added pepper balls and paintball guns.
Youngspiration and the Hong Kong National Party received a letter from the head of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, saying the department believed the items the parties intended to sell and the activities they had planned for the event in Victoria Park from January 22 to 28 would carry pro-independence messages.
The department terminated the parties’ operations of stalls out of public order and safety concerns.
Another source said the force’s intelligence indicated a pro-independence political party had called for its followers through social media platforms to head to the Mong Kok pedestrian precinct in Sai Yeung Choi Street South on Lunar New Year’s Eve to sell items.
The force would keep close contact with the Food and Environment Hygiene Department, which is responsible for handling illegal hawkers. “Officers will immediately move in upon a request or any violence,” the source said.
Although there was no intelligence suggesting anyone planned to storm the Victoria Park fair, the source said a heavy presence of officers in Causeway Bay on Lunar New Year’s Eve and the following day was necessary as the pro-independence group might want to divert police attention by appealing for supporters to move to Mong Kok.
“In addition to the regular police deployment to handle crowd control, extra officers will be deployed to monitor and patrol around the park such as at its entrances, MTR exits and the Great George Street pedestrian precinct to prevent possible chaos,” he said.
He said the force was still collecting intelligence and would finalise the deployment plan shortly before the holidays began.
It is understood officers are monitoring online forums and social media pages run by localist groups and pro-independence parties.
The Mong Kok riot broke out on the first night of the Lunar New Year in February last year following a dispute over a government crackdown on illegal street food hawkers who originally operated in Kweilin Street.
During the 10-hour riot, protesters lit fires at 22 locations and dug up about 2,000 bricks from pavements to throw at police, injuring nearly 100 officers.
More than 90 people have been arrested in connection with the riot. Officers from the organised crime and triad bureau are still searching for about 10 others.
In response to the riot, police have tested new mid-range crowd control equipment such as rubber bullets, recommended by an internal subcommittee set up to review police arms, equipment and training.