HONG KONG: Thousands of Hong Kong civil servants rallied on Friday (Aug 2) night to support protesters and urge authorities to rebuild confidence in the government as escalating protests rock the Asian financial hub.
The rally is the first time government employees have promoted a demonstration in Hong Kong. The civil servants assembled peacefully with protesters in the heart of the business district, many in black masks to hide their identity.
"I think the government should respond to the demands, instead of pushing the police to the frontline as a shield," said Kathy Yip, a 26-year-old government worker.
|Civil servants attend a rally to support the anti-extradition bill protest |
in Hong Kong, China. (Photo: REUTERS/ Tyrone Siu)
Police said they had arrested eight people, including a leading pro-independence leader, after seizing weapons and suspected bomb-making material in a raid.
A wave of protests is planned across Hong Kong this weekend, along with a mass strike on Monday across sectors such as transport, schools and corporates that could bring the city to a standstill.
The protests against a now suspended extradition Bill, which would have seen people sent for trial in mainland courts controlled by the Communist Party, widened to demand greater democracy and the resignation of Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam.
Under Chinese rule Hong Kong has been allowed to retain extensive freedoms, such as an independent judiciary, but many residents see the extradition Bill as the latest step in a relentless march towards mainland control.
"At present the people of Hong Kong are already on the verge of collapse," a group of civil servants said in an open letter to Lam.
"Hong Kong has always been well behaved and enjoys a high degree of freedom. It is a pity that we have seen extreme oppression ..."
It asked Lam to respond positively to five public demands: complete withdrawal of the extradition bill; a halt to descriptions of the protests as 'rioting'; a waiver of charges against those arrested; an independent inquiry and resumption of political reform.
The city's 180,000 civil servants must remain politically neutral, the government said on Thursday.
"At this difficult moment, government colleagues have to stay united and work together to uphold the core values of the civil service," it said in a statement.
[Interestingly, the former Secretary of the Civil Service Bureau spoke on "political neutrality", in a sort of rebuttal to the letter from the HK govt urging civil servants to be politically neutral.]
MORE PROTESTS PLANNED
Hundreds of medical workers also demonstrated on Friday to protest against the government's handling of the situation. Large-scale protests are planned for the weekend in Mong Kok, Tseung Kwan O and Western districts.
Clashes between protesters and police have become increasingly violent. Police have been criticised for excessive use of force and failing to protect protesters from attacks by what opposition politicians suspected to be criminal gangs.
In a warning to protesters, China's People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong on Wednesday released a video of "anti-riot" exercises and its top brass warned violence was "absolutely impermissible".
The PLA has remained in barracks since protests started in April, leaving Hong Kong's police force to deal with protests.
Police said seven men and a woman, aged between 24 and 31, were arrested on Friday after a raid on a building in the New Territories district of Sha Tin, where police seized weapons and suspected petrol bombs. Making or possessing explosives illegally can carry a sentence of up to 14 years in jail.
The police may arrest more people as the investigations unfold, police officer Li Kwai Wah said, adding, "Recently we are very worried about the escalating violence."
Andy Chan, a founder of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party that was banned last September, was among those arrested. His arrest prompted about 100 protesters to surround a police station to demand his release, television footage showed.
On Wednesday, 44 people were charged in a Hong Kong court with rioting over a recent protest near Beijing's main representative office in the heart of the city.
The escalating protests, which have shut government offices, blocked roads and disrupted business, is taking a toll of the city’s economy and scaring off tourists.
[Comment on Facebook (extract of a longer comment):
Civil Servants have to most to lose in political instability, protests, riots, and social unrest. They have an "iron rice bowl" and if they are found to have participated in protests AGAINST the Govt that they are supposed to work for, what does it say? What are they risking? Even their "iron rice bowl" would be broken.Note also that on Thursday (day before the Civil Servants' rally), the PLA had released a video of them quelling a hypothetical protest. This was of course a thinly veiled threat.
If ONE civil servant does it, he is probably an idealistic fool.
If TEN civil servants do it, they are probably some die-hard clique or cult members with overblown idealism. Or 10 idealistic fools.
If HUNDREDS of Civil Servants protest, you could argue that they are probably brained washed members of some ideological cult. And who probably have stagnated in their careers and have nothing to lose.
If THOUSANDS of Civil Servants protests, maybe they are all on some hallucinogen or psychoactive drugs, though one would wonder how the drug was administered to them at the same time. Or maybe the Cult has swelled in numbers.
If TENS of THOUSANDS of Civil Servants, choose to set aside their need to be professional, impartial, neutral, stoic, and dispassionate; if TENS of THOUSANDS of Civil Servants choose to risk their careers, their livelihoods, their reputation, their life and limbs, and their "iron rice bowls", what do you think it says about the cause that they have chosen to put their lives and livelihood on the line for?