China’s top official in Hong Kong made a rare appeal for pro-democracy protests to remain peaceful as a politician close to the central government warned it would send in troops if the demonstrations get out of hand, a report said yesterday. The remarks were made after thousands of people took to the streets on New Year’s Day to call for universal suffrage and for the release of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波).
The march was largely peaceful until scuffles broke out as around 100 activists were confronted by scores of police outside the Central Government Liaison Office, the body responsible for the city’s ties with Beijing.
The group chanted slogans, banged drums, and tried to break through a police barricade. Peng Qinghua (彭清華), director of the office, warned that “radical” demonstrations would not be tolerated, the South China Morning Post said.
“While we respect citizens’ expression of various views and demands, we hope these expressions can take place in a rational and peaceful atmosphere,” Peng, who rarely comments in public, was quoted as saying in the report.
“If some actions which are too radical arise in the process, this is against the expectation of citizens,” he said. “We hope in the future, rational discussion can be conducted on major political, economic and livelihood issues in Hong Kong.”
Beijing loyalist and Hong Kong executive council member Cheng Yiu-tong (鄭耀棠) said the scuffle had shocked the central government.
“If the majority of people are like that, Beijing will have to send troops here,” the paper reported Cheng as saying. “The status of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong is like an embassy of the Foreign Ministry. You clashed with the office in this manner, this was very shocking to Beijing.”
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy politicians have campaigned for universal suffrage to be introduced in 2012. Beijing has insisted that a vote “may be implemented for the Chief Executive in 2017 and the Legislative Council in 2020.”
Hong Kong, with a population of 7 million, was returned to China from British rule in 1997. It has a separate Constitution guaranteeing freedoms not available to Chinese on the mainland, including the right to protest.
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