HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong protesters planned flash mob demonstrations in shopping malls on Friday after a night of clashes in a central bar district as prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong called for 100,000 people to take to the streets on Saturday.
Black-clad anti-government protesters, wearing now banned face masks, mingled with fancy-dress Halloween revelers in the narrow, sloping streets of Lan Kwai Fong on Thursday, the first time the district had been targeted.
Police fired tear gas to break up the crowds down the hill in the Central business district and were heckled by revelers complaining they were ruining the party spirit.
Anti-government protesters have taken to the streets for five months of sometimes violent unrest, angry at perceived Chinese meddling with the freedoms guaranteed to the city when it returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Wong was disqualified on Tuesday from standing in upcoming district elections, a move he said was “clearly politically driven”.
“We just let the international community realize how the election in Hong Kong is manipulated by Beijing,” Wong told reporters on Friday. “If more and more people, not only a few thousand but if more than 100,000 Hong Kongers take to the streets tomorrow, it can let the world know how Hong Kong people fight for a free election.”
The bespectacled Wong was a prominent leader of the student-led pro-democracy street protests of 2014 that brought parts of the city to a halt for 79 days, but he has not been in the forefront of the current unrest.
Protesters are seeking universal suffrage for Hong Kong, whose chief executive is chosen by 1,200 largely establishment figures from a list of Beijing-approved candidates. China will “perfect” the way the leader is appointed and replaced, a senior Chinese official said on Friday, without giving details.
CHINA DENIES MEDDLING
The unrest represents the biggest popular challenge to President Xi Jinping’s government since he took over the leadership in late 2012. On Thursday, the Communist Party vowed to ensure Hong Kong’s stability.
Saturday’s march is planned from Victoria Park beside the shopping district of Causeway Bay to Central. It has been banned by police due to safety concerns, but two other pro-democracy rallies to be held in Central in the evening have received permits. Bans have not stopped people from marching before.
Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula which enshrines freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system.
China denies interfering with the city’s freedoms and has accused foreign governments including the United States and Britain of stirring up trouble.
On Thursday, Hong Kong’s High Court issued a temporary injunction banning people from posting or spreading messages online which “incite the use or threat of violence”.
The measure is the first time authorities have tried to curb the publishing of comments online, a move critics say sets a dangerous precedent for controlling the internet.
The ban, effective until Nov. 15, applies to any internet platform and specifically names the popular online forum LIHKG and messaging app Telegram that protesters use to communicate.
Government data on Thursday confirmed that Hong Kong slid into recession in the third quarter for the first time since the global financial crisis of 2008.
While the Sino-U.S. trade war has hurt the city’s economy, the protests have dealt a further blow, crippling the retail and tourism sectors. Retail sales fell 18.3% in value in September from a year earlier, an eighth consecutive month of decline. August’s drop was a revised 22.9%.
Reporting by Felix Tam, Donny Kwok and Twinnie Siu; Writing by Farah Master and Nick Macfie; Editing by Hugh Lawson