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Hong Kong copyright bill

Manhunt begins after explosion outside Hong Kong legislature

None injured as two suspects seen fleeing the building’s premises after apparently igniting a rubbish bin on a day when a controversial copyright bill was to be discussed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 December, 2015, 9:44am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 December, 2015, 7:29pm

A police manhunt was underway on Thursday for two suspects involved in an explosion on Wednesday night outside the Legislative Council building where a rally - which had been cancelled - was due to take place against the controversial copyright bill.

Two men in surgical masks were seen igniting objects and hurling them into a rubbish bin in the demonstration zone outside Legco in Admiralty at about 8.30pm on Wednesday, police said.

A fire ignited inside the bin, followed by an explosion. The pair were seen fleeing towards Tamar Park, police said.

READ MORE: Hong Kong legislature forced to push back copyright bill debate over lack of lawmakers

“We believed the explosive device was a modified gas canister,” said Chief Inspector Chan Chung-kuen of Hong Kong Island regional crime unit. “Some of what had happened was captured by Legco security cameras.”

No one was reported injured in the case, which was being called an act of arson. There was no damage aside from the charred bin.

The controversial Copyright Amendment Bill was to be discussed in the city’s legislature on Wednesday. But it was delayed as there were too few lawmakers in attendance.

Many opponents viewed the bill as clamping down on freedom of expression and creation, instead of strengthening cultural industries, as the government and some industries had argued.

Speaking on an RTHK programme this morning, two co-organisers of the cancelled rally said the explosion should not be linked to their planned gathering.

Keyboard Frontline spokesman Luk Kwun-yu said: “I think it was just a prank, but I do agree that if there are tens of thousands of people gathering there ... it would be dangerous. I think our opposition should focus on those in authority, and we must not hurt those standing with us.”

Luk Kwun-yu said the rally would be postponed to next Wednesday as planned yesterday, but he urged participants not to set anything alight or bring explosives to the rally as doing so would be dangerous.

He believed about 10,000 to 20,000 people would turn up on Wednesday and about 100 volunteers would help to maintain order.

Youngspiration convenor Baggio Leung Chun-hang said: “Since the rally was cancelled, I don’t think we need to link [the explosion] with it. I believe that most internet users and young people have a clear demand [about the copyright bill], and it was not so bad that we have to express our voice like that.”

The pan-democratic camp had been opposing the copyright bill.

Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said of the explosion: “We abhor and seriously reprimand this kind of act. For many years, Hongkongers have fought for their cause through peaceful and non-violent means, and this was respected by the international community.

The long-time lawmaker said she did not want anyone to “destroy” the city’s reputation and tradition.

On whether she felt threatened by the explosion, Lau said: “If that was the intention, we are telling whoever did this that we will not be threatened or scared.”

Pro-government lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung, from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said of the incident: “I am worried ... It’s okay for people to protest, petition or express their views, but they shouldn’t do anything dangerous.”

In a statement, Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing expressed his grave concern over the explosion, which he condemned. He urged law enforcement agencies to take swift and decisive action to arrest the culprits and bring them to justice.

The Legco Commission, chaired by Tsang and made up of 12 other lawmakers from across the political spectrum, were to hold a special meeting this afternoon to discuss the explosion.

A container of butane commonly used for mobile stoves was left near the bin, along with a deformed plastic container of medical alcohol and burned paper.

A witness at the site said he heard a noise and saw about five men wearing black clothes fleeing before the explosion.

He said: “Then I saw a rubbish bin on fire … there was a ‘bang’ four or five minutes later followed by a strong gas odour. The bin’s cover flew up about 30cm.”

Another witness described a flame in the bin followed by an explosion, causing the rubbish inside it to “fly all around”. He was among about a dozens protesters lingering within the area despite the a rally against a proposed new copyright law earlier being cancelled.

READ MORE: Hong Kong copyright bill explained: Why are people so concerned about this

Shortly after the explosion, a nine-second-long video clip showing the bin on fire and the explosion was uploaded on YouTube by social media site TMHK.

Asked whether the video clip could help in the police probe, Chan said he could no speculate about who might have been involved as an investigation was ongoing.

The pair seen fleeing the scene were each 1.7-metre-tall and of slim build. One was said to be wearing a dark-coloured jacket and a backpack, while the other wore a light-coloured jacket and dark-coloured pants.

A police hotline at 6803 0207 was set up to collect information from any members of the public who might have knowledge of what happened.

Several organisations opposing the copyright bill, due for continued Legco discussion next week, planned to stage a rally at 7pm at the site. Organisers had expected some 5,000 people to show up before the rally was cancelled.