HONG KONG – Anti-government protesters in Hong Kong began circulating plans on Monday to “stress test” the Bank of China in their bid to keep pressure on the city’s pro-Beijing leaders, after five people were arrested in the latest clashes with police.
The city has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history following a month of huge marches as well as separate violent confrontations with police involving a minority of hardcore protesters.
The rallies were sparked by a now-suspended law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have since morphed into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory.
Sunday night saw fresh political violence break out in the district of Mongkok as police baton-charged small groups of masked, largely young protesters who were walking along roads and refused to disperse following another massive, peaceful rally earlier in the day.
Police said the group were taking part in an “unlawful assembly” and had been warned that officers would take action.
“Some protesters resisted and police arrested five persons for assaulting a police officer and obstructing a police officer in the execution of duties,” a statement said.
Another protester was arrested earlier in the day for failing to provide identification during a stop and search.
Activists hit out at the police tactics, saying the protesters had remained peaceful as they made their way home, and that violence was started by a shield wall of riot officers that had blocked the crowd’s path.
“HKers joined rally peacefully… against extradition bill result in being beaten and assaulted by HK Police,” democracy activist Joshua Wong wrote in a tweet accompanying pictures of at least two protesters with bleeding head wounds.
“Just another example of excessive force used by the police,” he added in another tweet.
By Monday morning, online groups were already planning more protests on encrypted messenger apps and chat forums that have been successfully used by demonstrators to bring out huge crowds.
One proposal going viral was a call to collectively withdraw funds from the Bank of China this Saturday to “stress test” the organization’s liquidity.
The state-owned Bank of China’s towering Hong Kong headquarters is one of the most recognizable buildings in the territory’s famous skyline and the organization is one of three banks licensed to issue its own notes.
Public anger has soared against the city’s pro-Beijing leaders and its police force after officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters outside parliament last month.
Since then the chaos has only escalated.
Last Monday, anger peaked as hundreds of demonstrators stormed and trashed the city’s parliament.
Those unprecedented scenes — and renewed huge marches — have failed to persuade the government, whose sole concession so far has been to suspend the loathed extradition bill.
Protesters are demanding the bill be scrapped entirely, an independent inquiry into police tactics, amnesty for those arrested, and for the city’s unelected leader Carrie Lam to step down.
They have also demanded authorities stop characterizing protesters as “rioters”, a definition that carries much steeper jail terms.
Beijing has thrown its full support behind the embattled Lam, calling on police to pursue anyone involved in the parliament storming and other clashes.
With the exception of a pre-dawn press conference after parliament was stormed, Lam has virtually disappeared from public view in recent weeks with little clue as to what direction her administration intends to take.
Despite repeated requests, police have not released a breakdown of how many people have been detained in the last month of protests.
A tally kept by AFP shows at least 72 people have been arrested, though it is not clear how many have been charged.
Sunday’s rally outside a controversial train station that runs to the mainland drew 230,000 people, organizers said, after calls for the gathering started on online forums and snowballed.
Police estimated 56,000 people attended the protest at its peak.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5