Riot police fired pepper spray to disperse protesters participating in an organized singalong protest at the New Town Plaza in Sha Tin on Friday, May 1. According to regional media sources, participants gathered from approximately 19:00 (local time) in the atrium of the shopping center, despite the current ban on public gatherings of more than four people amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Police forces reportedly cordoned off the area and urged the activists to leave as they were violating COVID-19 restrictions. Reports suggest that the police fired pepper spray after small clashes took place between them and the protesters. No injuries were immediately reported following the incident.
Security forces were deployed across Hong Kong on May 1 ahead of planned International Workers' Day demonstrations organized by the pro-democracy Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) and pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions (FTU). The Hong Kong police reportedly asked both organizations to withdraw their applications amid fears of spreading COVID-19. The CTU had planned their event in accordance with government social distancing guidelines, and its leaders stated that some action will be taken regardless of police objections.
Reports indicate that additional demonstrations and gatherings took place elsewhere in Hong Kong earlier on May 1, including in Mong Kok, Kwun Tong, Tai Po, and Causeway Bay. Plans for further pro-democracy protests have also been made for Sunday, May 10, in Kowloon, Thursday, June 4, on the anniversary of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, and Saturday, June 9, the one-year anniversary of the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests. Current COVID-19 social distancing legislation is set to expire on Thursday, May 7, and the territory will likely see an uptick in protest activity once gatherings are again permitted.
The planned International Workers' Day protests follow several days of demonstrations elsewhere in the city; on Wednesday, April 29, in the early afternoon pro-democracy protesters gathered in Hong Kong's International Finance Centre (Central) and later moved to Landmark Mall (Central). Hong Kong riot police earlier dispersed more than 100 pro-democracy protesters at the International Financial Centre in the evening of Tuesday, April 28. Additionally, on Sunday, April 26, 300 pro-democracy protesters gathered at Cityplaza mall in Taikoo Shing (Quarry Bay). Riot police dispersed the protesters and issued verbal warnings.
Further protests are expected in Hong Kong over the near term. Clashes between rival protesters and police cannot be ruled out.
Demonstrations have been held throughout Hong Kong since June 2019 to protest a controversial extradition bill, which would have allowed authorities in Hong Kong to extradite fugitives wanted in mainland China and other territories. While the bill was withdrawn on September 4, mass protests continue to be organized to demand government reforms and police accountability over violence since the start of the demonstrations. Pro-democracy candidates won 389 of the 452 seats in the territory's district council elections on November 24. The pro-democracy movement victory and the high turnout (71 percent) of the vote suggest that the public continues to support protests. Over 7000 people have been arrested since the protests began.
Individuals in Hong Kong are advised to monitor developments, avoid all protests as a precaution, and adhere to all instructions issued by local authorities and their home governments.
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