Asia Pacific

Police in Hong Kong use tear gas; protesters cut down 'smart lamppost'

AP

As chaotic scenes returned to the summer-long protests for the first time in more than a week, Hong Kong protesters cut down a “smart lamppost” as they skirmished with police on Saturday and officers fired tear gas at demonstrators.

Protesters used an electric saw to slice through the bottom of the lamppost while others pulled ropes tied around it. The demonstrators, who were holding up umbrellas to hide their identities, cheered as it toppled over.

They were part of a larger group marching to demand the removal of the lampposts over worries they could contain high-tech cameras and facial recognition software used for surveillance by Chinese authorities.

The government in Hong Kong, which has been convulsed by more than two months of sometimes violent protests, said smart lampposts only collect data on traffic, weather and air quality.

The semiautonomous Chinese city has said it plans to install about 400 of the smart lampposts in four urban districts, starting with 50 this summer in the Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay districts that were the scene of Saturday’s protest march.

“Hong Kong people’s private information is already being extradited to China. We have to be very concerned,” organizer Ventus Lau said ahead of the procession.

Police fired tear gas for the first time in more than a week after black-clad protesters set up makeshift barricades on a road outside a police station. Officers used minimum force to disperse the protesters after repeated warnings “went futile,” the government said in a statement.

Protesters threw bricks and gasoline bombs as police chased them down a main road.

The protest march had started peacefully as supporters chanted slogans calling for the government to answer the movement’s demands. The protests began in June with calls to drop an extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to China to stand trial, and widened to include free elections for the city’s top leader and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

Hong Kong’s government-owned subway system operator, MTR Corp., shut down stations and suspended train services near the protest route after attacks by Chinese state media accusing it of helping protesters flee in previous protests.

MTR said Friday that it may close stations near protests under high risk or emergency situations. The company has until now kept stations open and trains running even when there have been chaotic skirmishes between protesters and police.

Lau said MTR is working with the government to “suppress freedom of expression.”

Also Saturday, Chinese police said they released an employee at the British Consulate in Hong Kong as scheduled after 15 days of administrative detention.

Simon Cheng Man-kit was detained for violating mainland Chinese law and “confessed to his illegal acts,” the Public Security Bureau in Luohu, Shenzhen, said on its Weibo microblog account, without providing further details.

The Chinese government has said that Cheng, who went missing after traveling by train to mainland China for a business trip, was held for violating public order regulations in Shenzhen, in a case that further stoked tensions in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

The British government confirmed his release.

“We welcome the release of Simon Cheng and are delighted that he can be reunited with his family,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement, adding that Cheng and his family had requested privacy.

Cheng, a Scottish government trade and investment officer, was a local employee without a diplomatic passport.

The Global Times, a Communist Party-owned nationalistic tabloid, said Thursday he was detained for “soliciting prostitutes.” China often uses public order charges against political targets and has sometimes used the accusation of soliciting prostitution.