Many areas in Hong Kong went into lockdown mode on Tuesday to cope with citywide rallies and other activities planned by protesters on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.
Police are deploying about 6,000 officers, as they warned of “very, very dangerous” plans by protesters and described their actions over the weekend as being “one step closer to terrorism”, echoing a reference used by Beijing authorities earlier.
Across the city, scores of major shopping malls announced on Monday night they were shuttering their premises while others warned they would do so if the situation became too chaotic.
Several major skyscrapers and office buildings in the core business district had extra walls and coverings erected, while additional fences were installed at the already heavily-barricaded government headquarters.
On Monday, workers covered the lower part of the outer wall of the 68-year-old Bank of China Building in Central with a layer of thin plastic film while at the Cosco Tower in Sheung Wan, outdoor objects, including the tower’s signage and garbage bins that could be used by protesters as weapons, were removed.
At a police briefing on Monday, Chief Superintendent John Tse Chun-chung, of the force’s public relations branch said: “With the increase in the intensity and extent of violence over the past three months, there are apparent signs that hard-core violence will escalate in the near future. All acts are one step closer to terrorism.”
Tse warned of serious violence on National Day – which would mark 70 years of Communist Party rule – citing intelligence and messages posted on social media allegedly by protesters, as well as those who were “inciting others, including those with suicidal tendency to commit extreme acts such as murdering police, disguising as officers to kill others, and setting fires in petrol stations”.
But in their press conference, a group of masked protesters rejected police’s assertions that their actions had amounted to terrorism, accusing the force of trying to smear them.
“Hong Kong people know well who are the real terrorists. Police are,” claimed a speaker, who identified herself as Ms Chan, as she accused police of abusing their power in handling Sunday’s protests which she said were suppressed even before they began.
At the briefing, the protesters also said October 1 would be a “milestone” of the anti-government movement because they expected China to use whatever means to suppress opposition voices on National Day to “make society look peaceful”.
Calling for defiance, four pan-democrats on Monday urged members of the public to ignore a police ban on National Day and march peacefully at 1pm from Causeway Bay to Central as a form of civil disobedience, hours after the Civil Human Rights Front lost its appeal bid to hold a procession.
Labour Party stalwart Lee Cheuk-yan, who is co-organising the event, said they had the right to go ahead with the procession and were ready for any legal consequences.
Lee said he was hoping for a large turnout to show the public’s determination to achieve the movement’s five demands – which include an independent probe into police’s alleged use of force and universal suffrage – and to also call for an end to one-party rule.
“We are just providing one more option for people because some didn’t know where to gather,” Lee said, noting that Hongkongers had turned up at unapproved marches in the past two months.
The National Day protests will start with a “black balloon flash mob” in Tsim Sha Tsui on Tuesday morning, while hundreds of pro-establishment elites and officials gather at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai to observe the flag-raising ceremony, which has been moved indoors this year.
Describing National Day as a day of mourning, protesters plan to pop black balloons which they said would symbolise the collapse of China.
Protesters are expected to head to the Sha Tin Racecourse before noon where a National Day race meeting will be held, before dispersing to citywide rallies to be held in Tsuen Wan, Tuen Mun, Wan Chai, Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin and Sha Tin.
On the side of government supporters, Safeguard Hong Kong, an umbrella organisation of 380 Beijing-loyalist groups, aims to mobilise a 10,000-strong volunteer force to protect national flags around town from being desecrated by protesters.
A police source said at least 6,000 officers would be deployed across the city around the clock on Tuesday, with a sea-air-land security operation conducted to safeguard important structures such as the convention centre and Beijing’s liaison office in Western district.
A sea route to transport officials to the convention centre has also been arranged as a backup plan for the flag-raising ceremony, in case all road access was blocked, the source said, adding water cannons would also be on standby.
On Monday evening, the Airport Authority announced that the express line would stop and depart only from Hong Kong station, skipping Kowloon, Tsing Yi or AsiaWorld-Expo stations from 2pm until the close of service. In-town check-in services at Kowloon station would be suspended all day.
The MTR Corporation announced on Monday that Admiralty, Wan Chai and Prince Edward stations would be temporarily closed starting on Tuesday morning with trains not stopping at these stations until further notice.
Free shuttle buses will run between Ocean Park and Kennedy Town stations.
The rail giant also said it might close other stations or entrances with little or no prior notice, depending on the situation, to ensure the safety of passengers and staff.
It added it was aware of messages being circulated online encouraging people to damage facilities at stations and on trains. It warned people against carrying out such dangerous acts.