Hong Kong police on Monday night arrested a 10th person in connection with a plot to make explosives at a time of mounting tension over a planned vote on a China-backed plan for elections in the Asian financial hub.
The 58-year-old local man was detained at a checkpoint on the border with mainland China on suspicion of conspiracy to manufacture explosives, Hong Kong police said. Police had earlier arrested nine others, with one of them claiming to be a member of a “local radical group,” Chief Superintendent Au Chin-chau said at a press briefing Monday.
“The investigation is still ongoing and for obvious reasons we can’t disclose too much,” Au said. Two of the nine were detained as they prepared to test chemicals that could be used to make explosives, he said. Seven other arrests followed, with the initial suspects ranging in age from 21 to 34, he said.
Police seized chemicals, air rifles,and a 3-D printer and TATP, an explosive that has been used by suicide bombers in the Middle East, according to GlobalSecurity.org. Authorities also recovered city maps indicating areas in the central neighborhoods of Wan Chai and Admiralty.
“There’s a possibility that this group of people want to do something in those locations,” Au said.
The arrests came as the legislature prepares to begin debate Wednesday on a China-backed bill that calls for candidates for the city’s first direct leadership election to be selected by a committee, not voters. The plan prompted almost three months of protests last year that triggered occasional clashes with police. More demonstrations are set for this week.
Michael DeGolyer, a Hong Kong Baptist University professor, said he was concerned that the discontent underlying last year’s protests could turn violent. “All we have is a great deal of very volatile, high-pressure, high-stress circumstances that just await a spark to go off again, but this time much more violently,” DeGolyer said, citing income inequality and soaring property prices.
“The situation has been left to the point where it has become literally explosive,” he said.
The suspects also had masks of Guy Fawkes, who led a failed plot to blow up the English parliament in 1605 and has become an symbol of anti-establishment protesters since the masks were featured in the 2005 film “V for Vendetta.”
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying needs support from at least four of the city’s 27 pro-democracy legislators to secure passage of the plan, for the 2017 election. Pro-democracy legislators have pledged to reject the proposal because they say the nominating committee is stacked with Beijing loyalists.
“As we are sitting here talking, I have no doubt about a veto taking place,” Alan Leong, leader of the Civic Party, which opposes the legislation, said in an interview Monday on Bloomberg Television. The bill will be presented to the legislature Wednesday with a vote expected this week.
Hong Kong people remain divided on the election plan. According to a daily tracking poll conducted by three local universities 42.6 percent support the measure, with 41.7 opposing the plan.
Backers of the plan say that it would allow Hong Kong people to vote for their leader for the first time in the city’s history. If the China-backed plan fails, the city’s top leader would continue to be selected by a committee of 1,200 business, political and social elite, which has hewed to Beijing’s interests.
“This is enfranchising 5 million more voters,” Regina Ip, a member of the city’s cabinet and the chairwoman of the New People’s Party, said in an interview Monday. “I can’t see how that is fake universal suffrage.”
For more, read this QuickTake: Hong Kong’s Autonomy