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Barricaded Victoria Park to greet vigil groups

2020-06-04 HKT 14:52
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  • Barricades have been put up at Victoria Park entrances  saying the venue is temporarily closed. Photo: RTHK
    Barricades have been put up at Victoria Park entrances saying the venue is temporarily closed. Photo: RTHK
Barricades have gone up around Victoria Park which used to be the venue for the annual June 4 vigil, as a lawmaker said he feared police will use social distancing restrictions to arrest people if they go there.

Hong Kong police have banned the candlelight vigil for the first time, citing a public gathering limit imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak, but opposition parties and activists say this is a ploy to curtail the freedom to protest in the SAR.

With the ban in Hong Kong, for the first time since 1990 there will be no event held here or Macau to mark the bloody crackdown against the student uprising three decades ago.

The Macau authorities had banned an annual event held there citing a technicality.

Organisers of the vigil in Hong Kong, the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, have urged residents to skirt the ban by lighting candles at 8pm wherever they happen to be.

But the alliance members said they will still go to the park in groups of not more than eight, as allowed under the social distancing rules, to light candles "to show Hong Kong people still remember" those who died in Beijing.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Andrew Wan said the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which manages the park, has worked with police to suppress protesters by sealing off the site.

Wan, who is a committee member of the alliance, said police could now use the lockdown restrictions as an excuse to arrest people who plan to gather there on Thursday night.

But he said he still expects “thousands and thousands” of people to arrive at the park and said he too would go there.

Wan said people should choose a way they’re comfortable with to join the vigil, either by going to the park or lighting a candle elsewhere.

He said the vigil organisers have worked with many district councillors to organise events in different spots to let people pay tribute.

Riot police were posted around the Legco area on Thursday and officers were carrying out ID checks on people entering via a footbridge.

With Beijing planning to impose a new national security law in the SAR, many Hong Kong residents believe the city's unique freedoms are coming to an end. Some residents said they fear future memorials will also be blocked.

"I don't believe it's because of the pandemic. I think it's political suppression," said a man surnamed Wong, 53, who kneeled by the barricades outside Victoria Park to pay his respects to the dead before going to work. 

"I do worry that we may lose this vigil forever," he said.

Online groups sent out maps calling for people to gather for small vigils in more than a dozen districts.

Seven Catholic churches also announced plans to host a commemorative mass on Thursday evening.

In Beijing, where security is tight during the anniversary, security guards prevented an AFP photographer from entering Tiananmen Square to record the regular pre-dawn flag-raising ceremony. 

Meanwhile, the candle emoji has been unavailable in recent days on the mainland's Weibo social media platform. (Additional reporting by AFP)