A handful of protesters will be allowed into so-called petition zones near stops by President Hu Jintao during his handover anniversary visit which begins today - a move one rally organiser dismissed as a 'public relations show'.
Assistant police commissioner Wong Chi-hung said the small fenced-in zones would allow five to 10 people to be closer to the president than the approved protest areas. In the zones, Hong Kong government officers will accept written messages for Hu.
Wong said the zones - a first for Hong Kong - represented an effort to improve procedures after widespread criticism of the police handling of protests during last year's visit by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang .
But it was unclear whether even the small groups of protesters shuffled through the zones would be within earshot of Hu. Police also said props, banners and other protest objects would not be allowed, leading Civil Human Rights Front organiser Andrew Shum Wai-nam to dismiss the zones. 'It's not feasible and it doesn't even allow props,' he said. 'We won't use the petition areas.'
Wong said a petition zone would be set up near the Grand Hyatt, where Hu was expected to stay during his visit. He leaves on Sunday. The locations of other petition zones, how far they are from the venues and whether Hu will actually walk by them, remain unknown. The border of the security zone around the Convention and Exhibition Centre, where a few major events will be held, was also not disclosed.
'The president will attend various functions,' Wong said. 'There will be protesters in the vicinity. I'm sure their voices would be heard.'
Media organisations were only told whether events would be held in the morning or the afternoon. Other details, including the nature of the events, remain unknown - another change from Li's visit in August.
As of yesterday, media organisations had received information about only two of Hu's six public events: a variety show tomorrow and the inauguration of the new government on Sunday.
Some Chinese newspapers reported that Hu would visit the Kai Tak cruise terminal project, the Shek Kong barracks and the high-speed railway being built to connect Hong Kong to Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
The president's visit and corresponding protests are likely to be dampened by Tropical Storm Doksuri. The Observatory issued typhoon signal No1 last night. But the Government Information Services Department had yet to detail contingency plans for the various ceremonies.
Details about police security plans came as an appeal board said protesters should be allowed to demonstrate on a 40-metre section of a walkway in Harbour Road tomorrow, while Hu attends events nearby.
Before the decision, Senior Superintendent Cheng yiu-mo had warned the Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions that allowing people to gather directly outside the venue would increase the risk of a terrorist attack, as suspects could hide in the crowd or they could attack the public to create chaos.
The Civil Human Rights Front expressed disappointment at the board's decision because the area was smaller than what it wanted. Shum said the group had also not yet reached a deal with the police on exactly how close protesters could get to the convention centre.
About 3,000 people are expected to participate in the demonstration, when protesters plan to march from Southorn Playground in Wan Chai to the Convention and Exhibition Centre. The police initially only permitted demonstrators to gather at gardens outside Central Plaza or Immigration Tower.
The Labour Party's Lee Cheuk-yan complained about tall barriers that would block views between the centre and the protests.
'Hu will have no chance to see the city's real face,' Lee said. 'Hong Kong has become a city of barriers.'
A source said police chief Andy Tsang Wai-hung had told frontline officers to refrain from arresting anyone during the weekend rallies. Tsang did not want protesters' emotions to be stirred up, the source said.
On Sunday, tens of thousands of people are expected to turn out in the annual handover march from Victoria Park to the government headquarters in Admiralty.
Some will march to the central government's liaison office in Western district.