200 police officers deployed inside Hong Kong's Legco complex ahead of reform debate
Security ramped up over fears complex may be stormed during debate but pan-democrats argue it risks undermining legislature's independence
Ahead of today's historic debate on electoral reform, police have taken the unprecedented step of stationing 200 officers inside the Legislative Council complex after intelligence suggested radicals were likely to storm the building.
Legco President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said yesterday he and the Legco House Committee had accepted the recommendation by the police and allowed officers to enter and help maintain order.
"According to the police's risk assessment, it is very likely some radicals will try to storm the Legco complex," Tsang said.
"The secretariat also knows that a lot of people, with opposing political stances, will gather around the Legco complex, and clashes are possible. The debate could be affected too."
The heightened security measures came a day after the city woke up to nerve-racking news of a radical group plotting to set off powerful explosives to cause chaos in the midst of Legco's highly acrimonious debate on electoral reform.
Lawmakers will cross verbal swords over the Beijing-decreed reform bill for the 2017 chief executive election, in which voters get to choose from two or three pre-vetted candidates. The proposal needs a two-thirds majority to be passed but looks set to fail with 27 pan-democrats in the 70-member chamber sticking to their vow to vote against it tomorrow or Friday when the debate wraps up.
Last night, concerns turned to the presence of police in the chamber, as pan-democrats argued the legislature's independence from the executive branch risked being undermined.
At 8.15pm, some 30 policemen in plain clothes entered the Legco building carting equipment, accompanied by 30 uniformed colleagues. Traffic to Tim Wa Avenue outside the chief executive's office was also blocked from 11pm.
Police sources told the Post 200 officers would be inside Legco, and another 1,000 would patrol outside the building today. Earlier, police said the plan was to mobilise 7,000 officers from across the city during the debate.
Tsang stressed Legco security guards would still be in charge and police would need his approval before dispatching more officers.
Labour Party leader Lee Cheuk-yan said: "It feels like the Legco secretariat is working with the government to create a very tense atmosphere in discouraging people to join the rally."
Commenting on the alleged bomb plot yesterday, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Hong Kong should not condone any illegal act - whether violent or not - suggesting acceptance of illegal protests could prove a slippery slope to encouraging radical elements to resort to violence. Illegal protests "will only let people with a violent tendency use the same reason to rationalise their violent behaviour", he said.
Meanwhile, Wang Guangya , director of State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told pro-Beijing newspapers the stringent electoral framework could be modified once implemented in 2017.
Song Ru'an, the Ministry of Foreign Affair's deputy commissioner in Hong Kong, cited Wang's remarks in a meeting with foreign media, warning Hong Kong faced a "worrying" future if the bill was rejected.
Also expressing support for the reform bill was Yan Jiaqi, former adviser to late Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang . Yan, an ideological godfather of the 1989 pro-democracy movement that ended with the Tiananmen Square crackdown, urged the pan-democrats to say yes and widen the franchise from a "small circle" to five million people.
Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam, Samuel Chan and Shirley Zhao