Incoming leader Carrie Lam leads handover anniversary flag-raising while police remove protesters

Nearby, large pro-Beijing crowd thwarts pro-democracy marchers as police remove activists from scene

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 July, 2017, 9:14am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 July, 2017, 2:27am

It is traditional in Hong Kong for dignitaries to attend a special flag-raising event on the morning of July 1 – the anniversary of the 1997 handover. This one was special as it was the first one presided over by the city’s new leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

However, not far away, police cleared more than 20 activists trying to get to the site after they encounterd a far larger group of pro-Beijing supporters.

The invitation-only event at Golden Bauhinia Square saw the Hong Kong and Chinese flags being raised. About 2,400 people including community leaders and members of uniformed groups attended. But one notable absentee was President Xi Jinping, who was on the last day of a three-day visit to the city.

Soon after, however, the Chinese leader inaugurated the new administration at the nearby Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Lam, accompanied by her husband, Professor Lam Siu-por, entered the square before 8am to greet guests.

Among those in attendance were former chief executives Leung Chun-ying and Tung Chee-hwa. However, Leung’s predecessor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was convicted and jailed for 20 months over misconduct in public office, was absent. He is out on bail pending his appeal.

Other guests included new members of the Executive Council and members of Lam’s cabinet, such as incoming principal officials Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and Law Chi-kwong.

Also present was Zhang Xiaoming, director of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong.

The two flags were raised at 8am against the backdrop of the national anthem. A helicopter carrying the Hong Kong flag and another carrying the Chinese flag flew over the square.

But on the other side of Wan Chai, pro-democracy protesters were thwarted as more than 100 pro-Beijing supporters holding Chinese flags and microphones blocked a lane of Hennessy Road and surrounded the much smaller pan-democrat group, which wanted to march to the designated protest zone near Bauhinia Square to call for the release of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

It was the first time in many years that the activists aborted their annual march towards the square.

“Long live the communist party,” one woman from the pro-Beijing group yelled. Another man, who identified himself as “Ah Ming”, told the Post in accented Cantonese that he would have thrown a brick at the pro-democracy protesters if police were not present.

The police intervened amid accusations that officers handcuffed protesters, including Demosisto secretary general Joshua Wong Chi-fung, even though they were not accused of committing any crime.

Hong Kong activists rally after arrests at handover statue protest hours before Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives

Wong said police dragged them into their vehicle without prior notice. He was lifted by his arms and legs and was handcuffed.

League of Social Democrats chairman Avery Ng said he was repeatedly sworn at and assaulted by an inspector in a police vehicle, while Figo Chan Ho-wun, another protester, claimed he dared not move after officers elbowed him in the ribs. He said officers then tried to snatch his mobile phone.

They were subsequently told by police that they were affecting public order and therefore had to be removed for their own safety, they said.

But Wong asked: “If they purely want to take us away from the scene, why did they have to escort us like suspects into a police car and handcuff us?”

They called the pro-Beijing group “patriotic thugs with triad backgrounds”.

Ng showed at least two bruises on his back and some more on his wrists, while Chan suffered a bruised rib.

A photograph taken by news outlet HK01 appeared to Ng being held forcibly against the window inside the vehicle by a police officer.

Ng and Chan are expected to take their grievances to the Complaints Against Police Office.

Lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, who also took part in the aborted march, warned police not to pre-empt their complaints by suddenly charging the pair.

A police spokesman said a man aged 45 was arrested and held for questioning on suspicion of assaulting Leung while two others, 36 and 40, were accused of assaulting another pro-democracy protester.