Police fanned out across Hong Kong on Tuesday in a bid to prevent pro-democracy demonstrations as the town celebrated the 70th birthday of communist China, with local authorities observing behind closed doors a flag-raising ceremony due to safety issues.
Authorities ramped up safety checks ahead of the anniversary and announced the closure of over a dozen subway stations as policemen stopped and searched on the streets and on public transportation.
The international financial hub is on the brink as demonstrators vow to overshadow the celebrations of Beijing, stepping up their nearly four-month protest pushing for higher democratic freedoms and accountability by the police.
Activists have called for individuals to hit the streets for a “Day of Grief” — though police have banned a suggested city-wide rally.
City representatives witnessed a morning flag-raising ceremony from the safety of the neighboring convention center in a vivid illustration of the political insecurity now going through Hong Kong.
UK representatives have always visited the ceremony outside, even during torrential downpours, since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to China. But popular protests that erupted in June made officials appearing in public increasingly risky.
Also watched from indoors was a flag-raising ceremony on July 1— the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover— as demonstrators flooded the streets and subsequently laid siege to the city parliament.
Officials sang the national anthem on Tuesday morning watching China and Hong Kong flags being raised on big television screens in a neighboring public square.
Carrie Lam, leader of Hong Kong, who has historically low ratings of approval, attended the enormous military parade in Beijing with footage showing her smile as troops and hardware passed through Tiananmen Square in a spectacular show of China’s power.
Groups of demonstrators gathered on the opposite side of the harbor at Tsim Sha Tsui to sing “Glory to Hong Kong,” an anonymously-penned anthem embraced by the movement. There were also about 50 individuals gathering on the harbor to wave Chinese flags and scream “Long live our motherland!”
“We are Chinese and celebrate the entire country,” said Kitty Chan, 30. She said the demonstrations worried her. “But 1.4 billion individuals have our backs, so we’re not afraid,” she added, referring to the population of mainland China.
On Monday, police advised Hong Kongers against attending prohibited rallies of protest, adding that intelligence suggested radical demonstrators were planning “very hazardous” tactics.
But activists denounced the decision of the police to prohibit a march from the Civil Human Rights Front, a non-violent group.