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Monday, Sep 21, 2020

HK officer hit by arrow; activists vow to ‘squeeze economy’

Second phase of tycoon Li Ka-shing’s billion-dollar fund to support Hong Kong businesses begins tomorrow

A police officer was struck in the leg by an arrow shot by a Hong Kong activist on Sunday, the city’s force said, as fierce clashes raged at a university which has become a fulcrum of pro-democracy protests.

Images showed the arrow embedded in the calf of the police officer, who was working with the force’s media liaison team at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), the scene of fierce clashes. A statement said he was taken to hospital in “a conscious state.”

Police deployed water cannon and tear gas against protesters occupying the campus in the Hung Hom area of Kowloon, now a key battleground as the demonstrators fight to keep a stranglehold on the Cross-Harbour Tunnel nearby, blocked since Tuesday.

Activists have vowed to “squeeze the economy” as the increasingly divided city reels from one of the worst weeks of violence in the months-long crisis.

At the same time, billionaire Li Ka-shing is giving out HK$600 million (US$76 million) to help struggling retailers in the second phase of his HK$1 billion relief fund. Retailers can apply starting tomorrow, from November 18-24, and will receive funding by the middle of December, the Li Ka Shing Foundation said.

Small and medium businesses in the retail sector are eligible to apply for up to HK$60,000 in funds.

The Census and Statistics Department reported that Hong Kong retail sales dropped by 18.3% to HK$29.9 billion in September due to a 34.2% decline in visitor arrivals.

Protests have swept the global financial hub since June as many in the city of 7.5 million people have vented fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.

A marked change in tactics last week to a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism stretched the police force, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and forced schools and shopping malls to close.

Students and protesters occupied several major universities around the city – the first time a movement characterized by its fluidity and unpredictability has coagulated in fixed locations.

A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday. “Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.

The education bureau said schools will remain closed at the start of the week “for the sake of safety.”

The protests started against a now shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.

Two people have died this month as the violence worsened, while the financial hub has been pushed into a recession by the turmoil.

Hong Kong’s airport authority on Sunday said October traffic figures were down 13% on last year with 5.4 million passengers.

Sunday clashes

Black-clad activists, known as “braves,” threw Molotov cocktails at water cannon vehicles as they fired blue water towards them at PolyU, although their flimsy umbrellas were useless against the jets.

At one point a black armored vehicle advanced towards the barricades, but it was forced to reverse after protesters launched bricks and several petrol bombs that caught alight under the van’s chassis.

Some protesters, who have been seen practicing with powerful archery longbows in recent days, fired at police.

Dozens of government supporters had earlier gathered in the area to clear barricades near the university campus, which was the scene of more violence overnight as officers clashed with protesters.

Around 80 to 100 middle-aged residents clapped and cheered as they moved debris from the road near the entrance to the tunnel that connects Kowloon with Hong Kong island – shut since Tuesday – before protesters in masks and their signature black t-shirts returned to rebuild the roadblock.

Television images showed activists throwing bricks at the residents to drive them away.

PolyU has become a flashpoint in the city rocked by a week of intensified violence and chaos. A message on the university’s Facebook page urged demonstrators to leave “immediately”.

“In view of safety concerns posed by possible violent unlawful activities conducted by protesters who are still occupying the PolyU campus, the University again urges all people on campus, including students and staff members, not to stay, and to leave as soon as possible,” the post said.

However, protesters circulated a poster online encouraging people to join them.

“Whole city unite, defend PolyU, defend Cross-Harbour Tunnel,” it said.

A 23-year-old PolyU student called Kason said at the scene: “It will be good for us if we can have a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before we set off for another fight in the morning.”

Chinese soldiers

PLA soldiers – based in barracks near Hong Kong Baptist University – briefly came out on Saturday to help the clean-up after a week of disruption, a rare and highly symbolic troop movement unsolicited by the city’s embattled government.

The action saw scores of soldiers from the garrison, which is confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, with crewcuts and identical gym kits conduct a lightning-quick removal of bricks and debris near their base.

Chinese state media has repeatedly warned that troops could be deployed to quell an unprecedented crisis in the semi-autonomous city that has entered its sixth month.

Confirming the brief deployment, the PLA said it acted to open a debris-strewn road outside their Kowloon Tong barracks to traffic, winning “applause from residents” in the process.

The last time soldiers assisted in the city was in 2018 to clean up after a typhoon.

A spokesman for Hong Kong’s government said the troop movement had not been requested by city authorities but was instead a “voluntary community activity initiated by themselves.”


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