Continuing turmoil taking toll on HK - GulfToday

Continuing turmoil taking toll on HK

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Protesters clash with police in Hong Kong. AFP

Hong Kong has for long been seen as one of the safest cities in the world, but its recent troubles in the form of protests show no sign of abating and that’s a huge cause for worry.

The demonstrators are seeking direct elections for the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s leader, the resignation of the current leader and an investigation into police use of force to quell earlier protests.

An unrelenting administration has refused to heed such calls and the situation only seems to be worsening with each passing week.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history after millions of demonstrators took to the streets and sporadic violent confrontations erupted between police and pockets of hardcore protesters.

The demonstrations over the last few weeks were triggered by a controversial bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.

The unprecedented protests with huge turnouts, as well as frequent clashes and the sacking of parliament, have had little luck persuading Beijing or Hong Kong’s leaders.

City leader Carrie Lam has also shown no sign of backing down beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition bill.

Her administration has faced down weeks of public anger and she has made few public appearances beyond visiting injured officers and holding a handful of press conferences.

The disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians, the de facto expulsion of a foreign journalist and the jailing of democracy protest leaders are among several issues that have sparked anxiety.

The deteriorating situation could be gauged by the fact that police fired tear gas at protesters for the second night in a row on Sunday.

Chaotic scenes filled several blocks in the western part of Hong Kong on Sunday night as police pushed protesters away from the Chinese government’s liaison office and a police station.

The situation reached such a stage where the police appealed to people to stay indoors with their windows shut as officers use tear gas to try to drive protesters from the streets.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees its people freedoms for 50 years that are not enjoyed in mainland China, including the liberty to protest and an independent judiciary.

Beijing vehemently denies interfering in Hong Kong affairs, but many residents worry about what they see as an erosion of freedoms and a relentless march towards mainland control.

Last Sunday, protesters took police by surprise with a swoop on the Liaison Office, scrawling graffiti and throwing paint bombs at walls, the national emblem and a plaque.

Chinese officials have described the vandalism as an attack on China’s sovereignty which would not be tolerated.

Anger against police is also too evident. Many of the marchers chanted slogans against the police. Some held up banners reading: “We rise as one, we fight as one” and “Stop violence.”

Adding to fears is the fact that the protesters appear to be getting more organised and willing to use violence to achieve their aims.

Continuing turbulence is not good for Hong Kong. It is unfortunate that the city’s leadership seems unable or reluctant to end the chaos. The level of public anger and frustration is visibly high. The administration should do its best to address all genuine grievances of the protesters.