Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers arrested as tensions soar

November 09, 2019
A molotov cocktail is thrown by protesters in a residential area after a rally in the Tseung Kwan O district in Hong Kong early on Saturday. -AFP
A molotov cocktail is thrown by protesters in a residential area after a rally in the Tseung Kwan O district in Hong Kong early on Saturday. -AFP

HONG KONG — Hong Kong police said Saturday they have arrested three pro-democracy lawmakers over a brawl in parliament, deepening the city's crisis a day after the death of a student sent tensions soaring.

The international finance hub has been upended by five months of huge and increasingly violent pro-democracy protests but Beijing has refused to give in to most of the movement's demands.

With the city bracing for a 24th consecutive weekend of rallies, police brought charges against three key pro-democracy lawmakers while four other lawmakers said they had been ordered to attend a police station later Saturday to be booked.

They face up to a year in jail if convicted.

The charges relate to chaotic scenes that broke out within a legislative committee in May as pro-democracy lawmakers tried to stop a controversial bill being discussed that would allow extraditions to authoritarian mainland China.

At the time, city leader Carrie Lam was fast-tracking the bill through the legislature, a move that went on to ignite record-breaking street protests in which millions marched.

"The protests that have been going on for five months are yet to finish but the government is already launching massive arrests of pro-democracy legislators in collaboration with the police," the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

One of the lawmakers said he would refuse to turn himself in.

"If you are accusing me of violating laws in the Legislative Council, come here and arrest me. I will be right here waiting," Lam Cheuk-ting told reporters at a joint press conference.

Hong Kong's legislature is quasi-democratic, with half the seats popularly elected and the rest chosen by largely pro-Beijing committees, ensuring the chamber remains stacked with government loyalists.

Opposition to the government comes in the form of a small band of pro-democracy lawmakers who win their seats in local elections.

The lack of fully free elections — and especially the fact that the city's leader is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee — has fueled years of protests that have culminated in the latest unrest.

The tinderbox atmosphere intensified on Friday after 22-year-old student Alex Chow died from a fall during recent clashes with police.

Although the precise chain of events leading to his fall are unclear and disputed, protesters have made alleged police brutality one of their movement's rallying cries and have seized on the death.

Thousands attended candlelight vigils on Friday evening while police fought cat and mouse battles with flashmob protesters who blocked roads, burned barricades and vandalized subway station entrances in multiple neighborhoods.

In one incident, an officer fired a live warning shot as his unit faced off with protesters throwing projectiles. -AFP

November 09, 2019
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