An anti-parallel trading march turned violent in Sheung Shui on Sunday, leading to arrests of dozens after some of the participants clashed with the police.
Claiming that the arrests were made to prevent the situation from getting worse, the police accused a section of the protesters for trying to breach public peace.
The march, which began at Sheung Shui Garden No. 1 on Lung Sum Avenue at around 2:30 pm, saw thousands of people take to the streets protesting against the so-called parallel-goods traders from mainland China who buy duty-free goods in bulk in Hong Kong in order to sell them for profit back home.
The concerns over such trading activities, which have been blamed for fueling problems such as goods shortages and overcrowded streets and malls in Hong Kong, have come to the fore again as people prepare for the Lunar New Year, a traditionally busy period for cross-border traders.
North District councilors from the Democratic Party, who organized the Sunday protest, said 10,000 people joined the march, for which the police had earlier issued a letter of no objection.
The police, however, estimated the crowd at 2,500 at the peak.
Before the march started, a large group of anti-riot police officers were seen staying vigilant on neighboring streets.
As the march was underway, about five petrol bombs were hurled at the Sheung Shui Police Station. The police said that at about 2:40 pm, “some rioters hurled petrol bombs at Sheung Shui Police Station. One police vehicle was blackened.”
“In face of the situation, the Police have used the minimum force necessary to stop illegal acts. Tear gas has been deployed outside the Station,” the force said in a Facebook post.
Some people gathered at the pavements across Exit A3 of Sheung Shui MTR Station, refusing to leave even after Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who is a member of the North District Council, called on them to leave peacefully.
The police then unfurled a blue flag several times warning people that they may be holding an illegal meeting, and telling them to leave as soon as possible.
Sometime after 4 pm, the police entered the Sheung Shui Centre Shopping Arcade and used pepper spray against the crowds of people inside and outside the mall, before arresting some tens of persons.
Speaking to media outside the Landmark North shopping mall, lawmaker Lam criticized the police’s sudden move as being disorderly and suggested that their action was unnecessary, pointing out that many residents were only passing by and that officers might have ended up making arbitrary arrests.
Lam pointed out that the end time of the march, as specified in the letter of no objection, was 5 pm and that it would tale time for people to leave. Given the time needed for dispersal, the lawmaker said he wonders why the police had to rush to disperse the crowd.
Explaining on its Facebook page, the police said the organizer of the procession in Sheung Shui had announced the end of the event at around 2:50 pm and urged the participants to leave, only to see some of them continue to gather in the vicinity of Sheung Shui Centre, ignoring multiple calls.
According to the force, five petrol bombs were thrown at the Sheung Shui police station at around 2:40 pm, causing a police car to be smoke-blackened.
Some?demonstrators used umbrellas to besiege passers-by near Sheung Shui Centre shortly before 4 pm.
The police took action at around 4:15 pm using pepper spray, and stopped and arrested people on suspicion of taking part in an unlawful assembly.
North District councilor Chan Yuk-ming revealed Sunday night that as many as 42 people were arrested as of sometime after 7 pm and that the arrested individuals had been detained in the Sheung Shui police station.
The Democratic Party, meanwhile, clarified that it did not call off the march 20 minutes after it began.
Instead, the party accused the police of making arbitrary arrests without any warning and trying to terrorize people joining the lawful march by having almost 50 riot police officers patrol repeatedly within an area less than 10 meters of the assembly site, as well as sending water cannon vehicles and armored vehicles near the assembly site, when the march was underway.
The party strongly condemned the police, saying the force had breached the agreement made for the march.
Lawmaker Lam said in a radio program on Monday that the rally on Sunday was peaceful and orderly overall, with no acts of vandalism.
Accusing the police of repeating the tactic they had deployed on New Year’s Day, when officers made mass arrests of protesters in Causeway Bay, Lam said authorities were trying to deter people from joining even peaceful marches.
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