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Home / World / Hong Kong protests: A false step by the government could make the city go up in flames

Hong Kong protests: A false step by the government could make the city go up in flames

The violence continued late into the night, when police surrounded by demonstrators fired warning shots and police saw them storming into a subway station and attacking alleged demonstrators all at once. On Sunday, there were demonstrators who attacked the subway, shut down and destroyed several stations after an hour-long break that paralyzed transport to and from the city's airport.

As violence continues to escalate, Hong Kong leaders have made it clear that they will not negotiate any of the movement's main demands, even though they call for "dialogue."

The government's message to the demonstrators seems to be empty-handed or to risk a serious action – which in extreme cases could affect the military.

But there are signs that gambling could backfire. The demonstrators did not hesitate to disrupt the economy and daily life of the city.

As mood becomes more nihilistic and angry, some may even welcome a crackdown.

The mood is shifting

There has been a marked escalation in the way the authorities handled the protests over the past week.

On Friday, several leading pro-democracy activists and politicians were arrested and charged with a variety of crimes, including the vague wording "Encourage others to attend an unlawful assembly," which provides for imprisonment of no more than five years. It seems like an attempt to have been able to accomplish an impossible task by taking the head off a leaderless movement.

Also on Friday, a rally and march of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), which had organized earlier mass peace protests involving hundreds of thousands of people, was banned by the police. Although the CHRF represented the moderate, non-violent wing of the protests and showed the support of a wide circle of Hong Kong society, the police did not intend to risk escalation.

This escalation occurred independently. On Saturday, demonstrators took to the streets in wild demonstrations that eventually converged on the legislature, where a long-running battle broke out between more extreme demonstrators and the police and spread to other parts of the city. The demonstrators threw gasoline bombs and stones at the police and pointed laser pointers at them.

Again, the tactics of the police was noticeably sharper than in earlier days of the protests. They used water cannons repeatedly, this was only the second time this summer, and hundreds of officers took to the streets to charge protest lines and make dozens of arrests.

The water cannon fired a blue dye that normally leaves a residual stain that makes it easier to identify participants for later arrest.

The police ordered in 2015 had opposed the use of water cannons for nearly three months. Now that the tool has been deployed from the arsenal, it has returned to normal. Just as quickly, the protesters are adjusting and exchanging information online about how to eliminate the blue spots.

With both the police and the demonstrators continuing to expand their tactics with no sign of disruption, fears are mounting that the government will turn to the government to assist the Chinese people in suppressing the protests.

Last week, thousands of new troops from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) joined the garrison in the city. The PLA described it as a usual annual rotation of personnel, but US military officials told CNN they had not seen evidence that existing forces had left the garrison and suspected that it might have been significantly reinforced instead. Chairwoman Carrie Lam refused to exclude the introduction of the Emergency Ordinance to combat the protests. The colonial law would allow her to "legislate" when "emergencies or public dangers occur." This could lead to mass arrests, curfews and media or Internet censorship.

All eyes will be on Lam this week to see if she uses such powers – or if she asks the PLA garrison for assistance in controlling the protests.

HK officials block or are powerless to act

While smoke and tear gas clears after the weekend violence, an escalation on both sides seems to be the only thing on the cards.

While Lam gestured toward meetings with young people and possibly with representatives of the protesters, she repeatedly refused to negotiate when it came to the five core demands of the opposition movement. These include the complete withdrawal of the currently suspended extradition law that triggered this mess, an independent investigation of allegations of police brutality and the resumption of long-term political reform.

The protests on Saturday were five years since Beijing ruled out universal suffrage for the city's director-general. In the manner of statement that marked the Hong Kong government's response to the crisis, a city spokesman on Saturday – to the wrath of many who were already on the streets – said that "a hasty resumption of political reform will further polarize society, which is an irresponsible act. "

The government offers few opportunities for the demonstrators. They can go home and hope for a vague promise for future negotiations once the violence has stopped, or continue protesting until the government collapses.

Hong Kong officials may not opt ​​for this strategy – as Reuters reported last week that Lam proposed a compromise in August, but was overruled by Beijing – but they do not have the cards to risk such a bluff. Apparently, Lam had considered withdrawing the extradition law to defuse the crisis, but Beijing put a tough line.

CNN has asked the Hong Kong-Macao Office and Chief Executive Carrie Lam's office to comment on the Reuters report. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the central government "supports, respects, and understands the Hong Kong government's attitude to the demands of the demonstrators."

In a sharp comment on Sunday, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said that "the violence in Hong Kong must end now."

The Hong Kong government and police have taken determined action to enforce the law and stop the violence clear warning to the rioters, "said Xinhua." The end comes for those who try to disrupt Hong Kong and China

  A woman is holding a cross in front of the Mongkok Police Station as the riot police keep watch over an anti-government rally during a confrontation with protesters in Hong Kong on September 1, 2019.

What a breakthrough might look like

The PLA has been in the hands of British control in 1997 present in Hong Kong, but has been in a city where a large memorial serves largely held in the background The massacre at Tiananmen Square takes place every year.

The sight of PLA troops patrolling Hong Kong's streets, let alone using force, has long been feared as a symbolic point where the city can not return.

The parallels of Heavenly Peace would be hard to avoid, even in a peaceful operation, and analysts agree that this could lead to a collapse of the city's economy and push foreign companies and investors to leave the country. The censorship of local media or the Internet could have a similar effect.

Who would be the most affected? Probably not the young people who make up the most radical, violent core of the protests. For many of them, a future under full Chinese rule, which is rapidly approaching under the current constitutional conditions in 2047, is a hopeless prospect.

Already at the end of the terrible economic inequality and unfair housing in Hong Kong, they are also less concerned about causing economic damage. Nothing has affected the city's global position more than protests at the airport, but radical groups have continued to target them. They saw it as a vulnerability that was to be exploited and attracted international attention.

  Protesters gather on a street as police tear gas in front of Hong Kong's government headquarters on August 31, 2019.

Hardcore protesters sometimes seem to enjoy the idea of ​​PLA troops on the streets, and see this as evidence of their ability to lay the foundation not only for the Hong Kong government, but also to shake the powers in Beijing.

Good! We are ready for it, we want it! Protesters reported CNN last month during ugly scenes of mob violence at the city's airport when they were asked what could happen in the event of a PLA crackdown.

"Give me freedom or give me death," read Graffiti left by demonstrators after more chaotic scenes near the airport on Sunday.

  Graffiti on a wall in Tung Chung, where protesters fled after stopping the transport to and from Hong Kong airport.

Whether or not Lam can cope with the implications of a military combat decision is far less clear, any local support comes from the city's elite, the tycoons, the yawning inequality of the city, and the massive inflow of benefited from Chinese capital and kept out of the city's current political crisis.

Should PLA Forces Be Used to Help Secure the City – or, worse, a massive military crackdown – it would be immortalized as a figurehead to this decision: the CEO who oversaw the worst crisis in Hong Kong history – and did not act to stop her.

Beijing may already risk economic and social damage if it maintains its uncompromising attitude. The Chinese economy is facing a multitude of challenges – weak growth, high levels of debt and, of course, the continuing trade war with the US. An economic collapse, or even the slowdown in Hong Kong, could have an impact north of the border that could quickly elude Beijing's control.

In a statement on Sunday's general strike, the Hong Kong Trade Union Confederation blamed the government for the ongoing crisis. "We have to save Hong Kong from institutional collapse," the group warned. "Hong Kong is our beloved home, our jobs, livelihoods, family and friends we all cherish are all here, we can not let those in power continue to devastate the house we always love."

Violent demonstrators have turned Hong Kong into a tinderbox, it is the government that is hosting the games. A wrong move could now cause the whole city to go up in flames.

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