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Protests before Hong Kong independence activist talk at press club


AFP |

Rival protesters gathered outside Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club Tuesday as it was set to host a talk by an independence activist, despite a request by Beijing to cancel. Pro-independence activists clashed with police, saying they had been given no space to protest, while dozens of pro-Beijing supporters chanted slogans including “Gas the spies!”

The lunch address from Andy Chan entitled “Hong Kong Nationalism: A Politically Incorrect Guide to Hong Kong under Chinese Rule” drew objections from China’s foreign ministry and Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, as fears grow that freedom of speech in the semi-autonomous city is increasingly under attack.

Chan’s tiny Hong Kong National Party is facing a ban from city authorities who say it is a threat to public security despite having only a dozen core members. It is the first time such a ban has been sought since Britain handed over Hong Kong in 1997

The club stood by its decision to go ahead with the event, saying the views of different sides in any debate must be heard. Hong Kong enjoys speech and assembly freedoms unseen on the mainland under a handover agreement signed by Britain and China. But Beijing has become increasingly intolerant of any mention of independence for Hong Kong as President Xi Jinping emphasizes territorial integrity as key to China’s resurgence.

China’s foreign ministry had asked for the event with Chan to be canceled, a source told AFP. The ministry said: “We resolutely oppose any external forces providing a platform for ‘Hong Kong independence’ elements to spread fallacies.” A small group called the Students Independence Union turned out in support of Chan, waving independence banners outside the club in Hong Kong’s Central district.

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Other pro-democracy protesters said they did not support independence but were supporting Hong Kong’s right to freedom of the press and freedom of speech.  The pro-Beijing groups gathered outside waved China’s national flag, chanting.  “Get out of Hong Kong! We, Chinese people, don’t welcome you!”, describing the FCC as “thieves” and demanding the government “take back” the colonial-era FCC building it leases to the club.

Chan’s tiny Hong Kong National Party is facing a ban from city authorities who say it is a threat to public security despite having only a dozen core members. It is the first time such a ban has been sought since Britain handed over Hong Kong in 1997. Calls for the city’s independence have infuriated Beijing even though they attract little support. Chan was banned from standing for office in 2016. Chan’s talk was part of the FCC’s “club lunch” tradition which has seen an array of speakers, including Chinese officials, speak to members and the media.

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