Hong Kong cancels fireworks display planned for Oct 1 as protesters refuse to budge

As the protesters started mushrooming across the city on Day 2 of Occupy Cental protests, the Hong Kong riot police were on Monday recalled from pro-democracy demonstration sites, in what appeared to be a reconciling move by the government.

Updated: Sep 29, 2014, 14:48 PM IST
Hong Kong cancels fireworks display planned for Oct 1 as protesters refuse to budge

Hong Kong: Ignoring the government's call to disperse, thousands of protesters thronged across the city on Day 2 of Occupy Central protests, blocking the roads and hitting transport and business in the city even as the riot police were pulled back from the pro-democracy protest sites.

Meanwhile, the latest event to bear the brunt of the protests is Hong Kong's firework display that was planned for 1 October and has now been cancelled, the BBC said citing a government press release.

The spectacular fireworks display that draws a lot of tourists, is held to mark National Day, which celebrates the founding of the People's Republic of China.

In what appeared to be a reconciling move by the government, Hong Kong riot police were on Monday recalled from pro-democracy demonstration sites.

In a statement, the government said that the riot police withdrawal from the protest site was ordered as the pro-democracy crowds had calmed.

The statement also called on protesters "to give up occupied roads as soon as possible for emergency vehicles to pass through and for the partial restoration of public transport services".

As the thick presence of protesters blocked traffic across the city, making it a commuters' nightmare, the government appealed the crowds to dissipate, making way for emergency vehicles and allowing transport services to be restored.

"We don't want Hong Kong to be messy," Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said while reading the statement live on TV.

Meanwhile, Chinese internet users are fuming over the government's shutdown of photo-sharing service Instagram - an act ordered to keep at bay a flood of images coming from Hong Kong, showing the fervent pro-democracy protesters, and the police crackdown on them.

The blocking of Instagram comes as the Chinese state media slammed the protesters, with an article in Global Times calling the demonstrators as 'doomed' while another US-based website China Digital Times, informed that authorities have directed all websites to "immediately" remove any information related to the Hong Kong protests.

In Hong Kong, the protesters, some wearing masks and holding up umbrellas to protect against tear gas, expanded their rallies throughout the city on Monday, defying calls to disperse in a major pushback against Beijing's decision to limit democratic reforms in the Asian financial hub.

Police officers tried to negotiate with protesters camped out on a normally busy highway near the Hong Kong government headquarters that was the scene of tear gas-fueled clashes that erupted the evening before.

China has called the protests illegal and endorsed the Hong Kong government's crackdown. The clashes — images of which have been beamed around the world — are undermining Hong Kong's image as a safe financial haven, and raised the stakes of the face-off against President Xi Jinping's government. Beijing has taken a hard line against threats to the Communist Party's monopoly on power, including clamping down on dissidents and Muslim Uighur separatists in the country's far west.

The mass protests are the strongest challenge yet to Beijing's decision last month to reject open nominations for candidates under proposed guidelines for the first-ever elections for Hong Kong's leader, promised for 2017. Instead, candidates must continue to be hand-picked by Beijing — a move that many residents viewed as reneging on promises to allow greater democracy in the semi-autonomous territory.

With rumors swirling, the Beijing-backed and deeply unpopular Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying reassured the public that speculation that the Chinese Army might intervene was untrue.

"I hope the public will keep calm. Don't be misled by the rumors. Police will strive to maintain social order, including ensuring smooth traffic and ensuring the public safety," Leung said. "When they carry out their duties, they will use their maximum discretion."

The protest has been spearheaded largely but student-age activists but has gathered momentum among a broad range of people from high school students to the elderly.

Protesters also occupied streets in other parts of Hong Kong Island, including the upscale shopping area of Causeway Bay as well as across the harbor in densely populated Mong Kok on the Kowloon peninsula. The city's transport department said roads in those areas were closed.

Hong Kong's residents have long felt their city stood apart from mainland China thanks to those civil liberties and separate legal and financial systems.

Beijing's insistence on using a committee to screen candidates on the basis of their patriotism to China — similar to the one that currently hand-picks Hong Kong's leaders — has stoked fears among pro-democracy groups that Hong Kong will never get genuine democracy.

With Agency Inputs