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Hong Kong police make first arrests under new security law

NBC News logo NBC News 1/07/2020 12:07:48 Ed Flanagan and Justin Solomon and Adela Suliman and Dawn Liu
a group of people sitting on a bench © Provided by NBC News

HONG KONG - Police in Hong Kong have made the first arrests under a new national security law imposed by mainland China, amid dramatic scenes as thousands of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets on the 23rd anniversary of the territory's handover from the U.K. to China.

At least seven people were arrested under the new law, police said, which came into force late Tuesday evening. The move is seen as the most significant change since Hong Kong left British rule in 1997 and by critics as a direct threat to the "one country, two systems" policy that gave Hong Kong increased democratic freedoms.

Hong Kong police said they had arrested more than 180 people in total for taking part in "illegal assemblies" and other violations on Wednesday, with police using pepper-ball guns and a water cannon to disperse demonstrators. Police also said one officer had been injured by protesters and that others had set fire to a barricade and obstructed traffic.

The anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China has become an annual occasion for protesters to rally against what they see as Beijing's increasing encroachment on the city's freedoms.

Formal authorization for the protest was refused for the first time this year over coronavirus concerns. But this did not deter a largely peaceful crowd of demonstrators.

China announced in May that it would side-step Hong Kong's own legislature and pass the security law direct from Beijing, triggering widespread condemnation.

The legislation outlaws crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with up to life in prison.

a group of people posing for the camera: Image: Police detain a protester after bering sprayed with pepper spray during a protest in Causeway Bay before the annual handover march in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu / AP) © Vincent YuImage: Police detain a protester after bering sprayed with pepper spray during a protest in Causeway Bay before the annual handover march in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu / AP)

Thousands of protesters chanted "resist till the end" and "Hong Kong independence," in scenes resembling the pro-democracy protests that swept through the city last year.

Wary looking police showcased a new warning technique. Waving a purple flag with writing on that warned protesters that if they continued to chant anti-China slogans, they would face arrest under the new security law.

"You are displaying flags or banners/chanting slogans/or conducting yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion, which may constitute offences under the ... national security law," the message read.

Critics fear the legislation will crush wide-ranging freedoms in Hong Kong denied to people in mainland China that are seen as key to its success as a global financial hub.

But authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have been at pains to stress that the legislation is aimed at a few "troublemakers" and will not affect rights and freedoms.

Speaking at a flag-raising ceremony to mark the handover anniversary, the city's leader, Carrie Lam, said the law was the most important development since the city's return to Chinese rule.

"It is also an inevitable and prompt decision to restore stability," Lam said at the harbor-front venue where 23 years ago the last colonial governor, Chris Patten - a staunch critic of the new security law - tearfully handed back Hong Kong to Chinese rule.

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In Beijing, Zhang Xiaoming, executive deputy director of Beijing's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters on Wednesday that suspects arrested by a new Beijing-run security office in Hong Kong could be tried on the mainland. Adding that Beijing was "full of confidence in the future of Hong Kong."

"The law is a birthday gift to (Hong Kong) and will show its precious value in the future," Zhang said, noting that the law would not be applied retroactively.

He also dismissed foreign meddling in China's internal affairs after the security law sparked widespread global condemnation on Tuesday from countries including Germany, Japan, Britain and the United States.

"Gone are the days when Chinese people looked at other people's faces and depend on other people's pleasures," said Zhang.

The United States has heavily criticized the law and said it will withdraw some of Hong Kong's preferential trade treatment, stating that the territory can no longer be regarded as sufficiently autonomous from the mainland. It will also limit visas to some Chinese officials, place restrictions on a handful of Chinese media outlets in the U.S. and bar defense exports to Hong Kong.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, called the law "draconian" on Wednesday and said it would end freedoms in Hong Kong. China retaliated imposing similar visa limits on U.S. officials and restrictions on some U.S. media outlets and said it would not be intimidated.

1. heinäkuuta 2020 15:07:48 Categories: Länsiväylä NBC News Puheenaihe

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