Hong Kong Police Use Spray as Protesters Try to Storm Poll Site

Protesters Demonstrate Against Hong Kong Election
Protesters demonstrate outside the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Center in Hong Kong on March 25, 2012. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Hong Kong police used pepper spray on protesters including unionist and lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan in clashes outside the venue where former government adviser Leung Chun-ying was picked to be the city’s new leader.

The approximately 2,000 demonstrators from parties including People Power, the Social League of Democrats and the Civic Party carried banners calling for full democracy outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Leung, 57, won 61 percent of the votes cast by a 1,193-member committee of businessmen, lawmakers and academics.

“When it was announced C.Y. was elected, the people were very angry and rushed forward towards the Convention Center and were blocked by police,” Lee said by phone. “Just as I arrived there, police used pepper spray against the demonstrators.”

Leung, accused by Henry Tang of advocating the use of anti-riot police on protesters in 2003, pledged after the election to uphold freedom of speech and the rule of law, and to defend the territory’s rights. Hong Kong, a city with the biggest wealth gap in Asia, is due to introduce universal suffrage in 2017.

“They represent the small circle, which we are against,” said Leung Ting Pong, 23, a graphic designer who joined the protests. “Those people in the election committee do not represent the seven million people of Hong Kong.”

Public Discontent

The police public relations branch said in a faxed statement that pepper spray was used three times as the protesters first rushed on to Harbour Road and continued to attempt to cross cordoned areas despite several warnings.

The election was held at the convention, where committee members including Li Ka-shing, the city’s richest man, voted yesterday.

Some of the protesters burnt paper money “offerings” with Leung’s name inscribed on them, in reference to the Taoist ritual performed for the deceased. People Power members carried devices that shot yellow, orange and green plastic rings into the air to represent the “small-circle” election.

Public discontent with the government has grown in Hong Kong. Thousands took to the streets March 3 to demand that Chief Executive Donald Tsang quit after it emerged he had taken trips on yachts and planes of his tycoon friends. Former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa resigned after half a million people protested in 2003 against a proposed anti-subversion law they feared would curtail personal freedoms.

‘Past Intolerance’

Candidate Henry Tang said March 16 that Leung had suggested Hong Kong would eventually need to use anti-riot police and tear gas on protesters in 2003. Leung has repeatedly said he didn’t make the suggestion during meetings held by Hong Kong’s executive council.

“C.Y.’s past intolerance and attitude towards media freedom is worrying, but we won’t give up,” said Mak Yin-ting, head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. “We’ll see if his actions match up to his words.”

Hong Kong’s Basic Law, its de facto constitution introduced after Britain handed over the territory to China in 1997, enshrines the freedoms of speech, association and the rule of law.

Leung has pledged to build more public housing, increase land supply and provide tax-breaks to help residents buy their own homes. He also promised to speed up public projects like expanding the city railway system and encourage the use of electric and hybrid cars.

There were about 2,000 protesters outside the venue at the demonstration’s peak, the police public relations branch officer Candice Siu said by phone.

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