Wed, Nov 06, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Hong Kong Protests: HK chides public servants at rallies

‘ILLEGAL ASSEMBLY’:Thousands of civil servants have defied a government warning to remain politically neutral and joined demonstrations. One was arrested on Thursday

Reuters, HONG KONG

University students wear Guy Fawkes masks before their graduation ceremony at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong yesterday to mark a month after a colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance to prohibit the use of face covering at protests came into effect.

Photo: AFP

The Hong Kong government yesterday said it deeply regrets the involvement of civil servants in protests that have plunged the territory into its biggest crisis in decades as activists plan fresh demonstrations.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung’s (張建宗) comments came after a commentary by the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily said Hong Kong civil servants who supported the anti-government demonstrations would “perish with the rioters.”

The demonstrations began over a since-scrapped extradition bill and escalated in mid-June. Protesters have kept up their calls for universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into police behavior, among other demands.

The protests, which pose a grave challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), have received broad support from Hong Kongers, including some civil servants — one of whom was arrested on Thursday for illegal assembly — teachers and financial sector workers who have at times taken to the streets.

“In the past few months, a very small portion of the civil servants have broken the law, participating in illegal protests. We deeply regret that,” Cheung said.

“I think citizens have expectations to our colleagues. Their first job is to serve society, serve the community. And to support government policies, that is the responsibility of the civil servants,” he said.

In August, thousands of civil servants defied a government warning to remain politically neutral and joined a rally.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) in September said she regretted the arrest of some civil servants during protests.

While the number of people who take part in the mostly weekend rallies has dwindled from the millions who participated in June, the violence and vandalism have escalated.

Authorities have refused permits for many recent protests, making them illegal from the outset and activists liable to be arrested.

Cheung said the administration would cherish and safeguard freedom of the press amid mounting criticism of what many see as excessive police force, including against the media.

Officers have said they have shown restraint in the face of escalating violence.

Police canceled a planned news conference on Monday after several journalists from the public broadcaster and other local media turned up wearing helmets with signs that read “investigate police brutality.”

Cheung is standing in for beleaguered Lam, who is visiting the mainland, where Xi said on Monday said the central government had a high degree of confidence in her.

Protesters had circulated plans on social media to mark Guy Fawkes Day yesterday by wearing the white, smiling Guy Fawkes masks made popular by anti-establishment hackers, the film V for Vendetta and protesters globally.

Beijing-backed Lam banned face masks last month, invoking colonial-era emergency powers for the first time in more than 50 years, but protesters have largely ignored the ruling.

The demonstrations have battered the retail and tourism sectors, with preliminary government data showing the economy slid into recession for the first time in a decade in the third quarter.

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