Anti-government protesters in Hong Kong are expected to defy police and march in four weekend protests, all of which officials banned because of safety concerns in a move that critics said further stifles freedoms in the Chinese territory.
Of all the protest requests submitted for police approval, officials are allowing a single rally in Victoria Park, on Sunday. This is the third consecutive weekend that police banned some anti-government events in a city that is famous for its mass marches and vigils.
Senior Police Superintendent Jim Ng said that the banned protests were set in neighborhoods or near locations that had recently seen volatile confrontations between demonstrators and police, and the proposed events would likely spill into violence.
Government opponents defied police last weekend after their marches were barred, ending in clashes between riot squads and young people who fortified themselves with respirators, homemade shields and hiking poles. In the two months since the clashes began, officers have fired more than 1,000 rounds of tear gas, including on streets in residential neighborhoods.
Some of the events were canceled as a result.
One applicant for a march on Hong Kong Island told the South China Morning Post newspaper that he would consult a lawyer to consider an appeal.
"All marches would run peacefully if there were no police and triads," said Tse Lai-nam, the applicant. He was referring to men with links to an organized gang who are accused of staging a vicious assault with sticks and rods on protesters and a lawmaker last month.
The march denials came as Carrie Lam, the city's unpopular chief executive, ordered the protests and clashes with police to cease, saying they were stoking an economic downturn deeper than the one Hong Kong endured during the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Lam told the press that the economic slump "is very fast, and some people have described it as coming like a tsunami." Her claim was disputed by some scholars.
Hong Kong's constitution provides for the freedom to speak, publish and protest.
Amnesty International criticized the government, saying that any person should have the right to demonstrate without government approval. The group also noted that the government has begun to prosecute protesters, a move to "deter the public from participating in parade demonstrations, create white terror, suppress rallies and express freedom."
Protesters went ahead Friday with a planned three-day protest at the city's airport to publicize their fight against an extradition bill. Their grievances have widened to include demands for an independent commission to examine claims of police abuse and to restart a voting plan that would bring full balloting rights to the city's voters.
Also set to meet is a pro-government group called the Safeguard Hong Kong Alliance, which organized a large rally last month.
The denials came two months after the first mass march against a legal amendment that would have permitted Hong Kong to extradite criminal subjects to other jurisdictions, including mainland China. A broad swath of Hong Kong residents — including business owners, clergy, teachers and lawyers — turned out to plead that Lam withdraw the bill.
In a press release Friday, the government said officials have "clearly indicated on many occasions that all legislative work in relation to the amendment of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance has completely stopped."
Lam's repeated refusals to permanently pull the bill fueled a movement that has grown progressively more belligerent and harder for the police to control. Withstanding tear gas, rubber bullets and prosecutions for riot, protesters have besieged police buildings, swarmed highways and rail stations, and thrown fire bombs.
Protesters attacked police district buildings, set fires, and flooded highways and tunnels on Monday, with police firing more than 800 tear gas canisters that day.