HK handover flag-raising ceremony on July 1 scaled back due to extradition bill protest security concerns

South China Morning Post

Home Affairs Department reduces number of people attending event held at Golden Bauhinia Square

South China Morning Post |

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The flag-raising ceremony to mark Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule on July 1 will be scaled back over “security concerns” amid the escalation of protests against the contentious extradition bill.

Activists had reportedly considered hijacking the event before attending the annual July 1 march.

The Home Affairs Department, which is in charge of organising the ceremony, said it would reduce the number of attendees.

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“Due to the recent societal situation and security concerns, students and uniformed groups will not attend the celebration,” it said.

The ceremony, which is traditionally officiated by the chief executive, is held at the Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai. In 2017, the same event was attended by Chinese leader President Xi Jinping, who was on a three-day visit to the city.

A source familiar with the matter said the ceremony would not be cancelled but would be reduced in size, and the number of participants “won’t be as big as in similar ceremonies in the past”.

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Thousands of people, including politicians, high-profile business leaders and students, have attended the annual flag-raising ceremony in the past. The event has also been a popular choice for mainland tourists.

The announcement about the ceremony came as more than 100 protesters descended on the offices of Hong Kong’s justice department on Thursday, calling for the complete withdrawal of the suspended extradition bill, and to spare arrested protesters from prosecution.

A 21-year-old university student surnamed Lee, also said even though the ceremony was being scaled down, she would still protest there and confront the city’s leaders. “Despite all our actions so far, our demands have not been met,” she said. “The government leaders are just trying to shed their responsibility and go into hiding.”

But a 20-year-old tertiary student, surnamed Shing, said he did not plan to join the protest in the morning, as organisers were unlikely to obtain permission from the police beforehand. “There is a higher chance of police using force to disperse the crowd. The cost of participation could be high,” he said.

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The plan to hijack the ceremony began circulating online on Wednesday night. Protesters discussed occupying the square the night before July 1 to stop the ceremony going ahead altogether. Should that fail, online users said people could arrive at the square in the morning of the event to sing songs and hymns, and chant their demands, before dispersing.

“The demands come first, hijacking comes second,” the text of one action plan read.

The plan also called for people to attend the July 1 march organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, which is set to depart from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay at around 2.30pm.