Senior police officers yesterday denied claims by activists that they had tightened their grip on demonstrations. The verbal warning given to organisers of Tuesday's pro-democracy march was not an attempt at suppression, said deputy regional commander of Hong Kong Island, Chief Superintendent Lionel Lam Kin. He said the warning had to be given because the turnout of 3,000 exceeded the estimate of 2,000 in the notification given by the organisers. 'We helped facilitate the procession by allowing them to change the route. We issued the warning because officers were concerned about the safety of demonstrators,' Mr Lam said. A police spokesman said an accurate estimate was important for police to decide on the number of officers needed and on traffic and crowd management. But a senior member of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, Lee Wing-tat, said the warning and some of the measures taken during the procession were unusual. 'Taking the June 4 candlelight vigil as an example where we expected 20,000 people to show up but more than 50,000 attended, the police did not issue any warning to us.' It was also unusual for the police to use tapes to stop protesters spilling into other lanes, Mr Lee said. 'These might be minor things but they did give me an impression that the police are tightening their grip,' the former legislator said. He said a more heavy-handed approach by police was likely to result in scuffles between protesters and officers. 'Our processions have always been orderly and peaceful. There's no need to tighten the security measures.' Mr Lee said police had discretionary powers to restrain processions which could be a threat to civil liberties if they exercised them imprudently. 'I am worried that as the incoming administration puts a heavy emphasis on public order, police officers in the frontline will be inclined to tighten their grip.' But Mr Lam said there had been no policy changes. 'We have issued similar warnings to public procession organisers in the past. There is not a change of policy. If we wanted to suppress the demonstrators, we had every power to stop the procession because the number of participants was well over the limit.' A police spokesman said the tapes were used to facilitate the procession and ensure public safety.