The group of villagers who boarded buses for the two-hour commute to the Legislative Council building from the northeastern New Territories on Friday did not intend the excursion to end in smashed windows and scuffles with police, they said.
They had only one simple plea: to protect their rural homes from being razed for new towns.
But in the full glare of the media, things got out of control, resulting in mayhem, police arrests – and bad press for the villagers.
Now, as they prepare for another showdown at the Tamar premises this Friday, they hope peace will prevail.
Kwu Tung North villager Chow Koot-yin, 26, lamented last week’s outcome, saying it was not expected.
“Our bottom line was to avoid injury and property damage,” she said. “All we wanted was to highlight the injustice of the [new-towns] plan. We are not looking for drama or violence … This same bottom line will be upheld this Friday.”
Chow’s village, close to a century old, is one of several in Kwu Tung North and Fanling North to be demolished should construction of the two new towns, which will include more than 60,000 flats, receive approval.
Activists concerned for the villagers’ plight joined them in their demonstration at Legco. Last Friday, about 200 protesters tried to force their way into the barricaded building as the Finance Committee was discussing the government’s funding request for HK$340 million to carry out preliminary engineering works.
Chow said they had not reached a consensus with the activists ahead of time on how to proceed.
The committee reconvenes this Friday, and Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing vowed on Tuesday to beef up security measures. Tsang said the protesters had deliberately tried to breach the building’s security last week.
Li Yin-fong, a Kwu Tung North resident of more than 20 years, expressed disappointment that many newspapers over the week had branded the demonstrators as violent.
“I understand many of the youngsters were angry about the meeting procedures,” Li said. “When they saw [committee chairman Ng Leung-sing], they just lost it.”
Asked whether she would endorse the same extreme tactics this Friday, Li said the protesters “had her support” but those who resorted to violence would have to “understand and bear the consequences”.
Friday’s rally started at about 3pm, and by 12.45am, some 100 people remained sitting outside the building.
Many of the villagers present were elderly residents who had left by 10pm. One of them was a 60-year-old grandmother who gave her name only as Granny Kuen.
“When I got back home I couldn’t sleep and my head hurt so much,” she said.
“Do you think I really want to travel two hours on a bus to the city? We are also reluctant. But we have no choice as the government is forcing us to come out.”