What's stopping Hong Kong pro-democracy marchers from using the football pitches at Victoria Park on July 1?
Pro-Beijing group Hong Kong Celebrations Association will use soccer pitches for lion and dragon dance performances and workshops, and exhibition on regional integration
A pro-Beijing association will host a three-day cultural event featuring lion and dragon dance performances and an exhibition related to regional integration in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to mark the 21st anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule.
The Hong Kong Celebrations Association, an umbrella group of about 40 pro-Beijing societies, has been given priority for the second year in a row to use the Causeway Bay park’s six soccer pitches, ahead of the organisers of the annual July 1 protest march.
The march organiser, Civil Human Rights Front, said on Wednesday evening that it would observe a police order to start the protest from the park’s central lawn, but in a “passive way”, backing down after earlier urging demonstrators to gather at pedestrian zones near the park.
The pitches, which can accommodate tens of thousands of people, were the starting point of the pro-democracy march from 2004 to 2016.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, association chairman Cheng Yiu-tong said it was necessary for the event from June 30 to July 2 to take up all six pitches.
“We need such a large venue … Even if we were willing to share the six pitches [with the front], the police would not agree to it,” he added.
Besides the cultural performances, there will be an exhibition to showcase Beijing’s ambitious “Greater Bay Area” plan to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities into an innovation powerhouse rivalling Silicon Valley, and information on the work that pro-Beijing parties have been doing in the region.
Last year, the association held a science expo in the park for the 20th anniversary celebrations.
Civil Human Rights Front, meanwhile, said it would arrange for the core protest groups to assemble at the lawn on July 1 if the situation permitted.
“For those participants who cannot make it to the lawn if it gets too crowded, we will ask them to join the march in the middle of the route,” front convenor Sammy Ip said.
Ip also urged the police to make it easier for people to join the rally, which goes from Victoria Park to government headquarters at Tamar, along the route.
The front decided on the plan after a special meeting of more than 20 of its core members on Wednesday night. Further details would be announced later, Ip said.
Front deputy convenor Au Nok-hin earlier said the Leisure and Cultural Services Department had been “unfair” in processing applications to use the park’s soccer pitches on July 1.
“With the participation of political parties, it has become a political event, not a charity event,” Au said.
But Cheng insisted that the event was still charitable in nature.
“We are providing services for residents to enjoy for free,” he said.
The front had earlier applied, as an alternative to the pitches, for the march to begin at either the pedestrian zones at East Point Road or Great George Street, both within a few minutes’ walk from the park. But the police said they could only start the march from the park’s central lawn, citing security concerns.
The front had expressed disappointment with the decision and urged people to join the rally at East Point Road as planned, despite the police chief’s warning that marchers could face legal consequences if they pressed ahead.
Cheng said he was not worried that supporters of his group would clash with marchers.
The July 1 march has become an annual ritual on the public holiday that marks the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Additional reporting by Sum Lok-kei