The government has promised to step up enforcement against unauthorised banners in the city, in a move that is seen as a bid to bring an end to the bitter banner war between the Falun Gong spiritual movement and a pro-establishment group.
The Youth Care Association had in recent months begun putting up numerous anti-Falun Gong banners in places like Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, often over the spiritual movement's banners promoting their beliefs.
More than a hundred banners can be seen at the Star Ferry Pier in Tsim Sha Tsui.
The government said yesterday that it would issue warnings to those who put up unauthorised banners.
The banners would be cleared and the cost of removal would be borne by the offenders. Criminal prosecution was also an option, the government said.
"Apart from posing risks to road users, there were occasions in the past when representatives of individual groups quarrelled and scuffled with each other in the public places over the display of banners, causing a great nuisance or inconvenience to pedestrians," a government spokesman said.
At the Star Ferry Pier yesterday, about 15 officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department went about slapping warning letters on the unauthorised banners there.
A department spokesman said 107 letters were issued in all.
The letters warned that those who put up the banners were liable to a fine of up to HK$10,000 and a daily fine of HK$300, and demanded that the banners be removed.
Elaine Chum, a Falun Gong believer at a booth in Tsim Sha Tsui, said the spiritual movement had been promoting its creed in the area since 1999.
She accused the Communist Party of backing the association's actions and of spreading vicious messages across the city about her group.
"It is like they are promoting the Cultural Revolution in Hong Kong," she said.
Lam Kwok-on, the Youth Care Association's spokesman, said his group had put up so many banners in order to press the government into cracking down on those put up by the Falun Gong.
He was happy that the government was going to step up enforcement, he said.
Lam said the association would soon cease to be a limited company and that he had registered it as a non-profit society instead. The companies registry showed that the group had applied to be deregistered in December and it would take effect later this month. But he denied rumours that his group had plans to merge with another pro-establishment group.
Saleswoman Winnie Chan, 40, who often walked past the Star Ferry Pier, said she welcomed the government's move, but asked why it took so long.
"It is really a nuisance. The two groups often quarrelled and ended up calling the police."
German tourist Lenonora Haag, 50, said while she did not know what the banners meant, she agreed they were unsightly.
Tsim Sha Tsui West district councillor Derek Hung Chiu-wah said he had received countless complaints from residents over the banners.
"How can the government tolerate [so many of] these banners being put up [so blatantly] on the streets?" he said.