Pro-Beijing groups tear down Hong Kong’s protest walls, raising risk of clashes

Riot police are seen in front of pro-China supporters as they pull down Lennon Walls of anti-government posters and memo outside Yuen Long MTR station in Hong Kong. (Reuters)
Updated 21 September 2019

Pro-Beijing groups tear down Hong Kong’s protest walls, raising risk of clashes

  • The installations have blossomed across the Asian financial center
  • Pro-Beijing city legislator Junius Ho had urged his supporters to clean up the approximately 100 Lennon Walls

HONG KONG: Groups of China supporters pulled down “Lennon Walls” of anti-government protest messages across Hong Kong on Saturday, raising the possibility of clashes with democracy supporters and another weekend of trouble.
By mid-morning, dozens of Beijing supporters had started to tear down the large mosaics of colorful posted notes calling for democracy and denouncing perceived Chinese meddling in the former British colony.
The installations have blossomed across the Asian financial center, at bus stops and shopping centers, under footbridges and along pedestrian walkways.
They have also occasionally become hot spots of violence in the city’s three months of unrest.
Hong Kong’s protests picked up in June over legislation, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial. Demands have since broadened into calls for universal suffrage.
A pro-Beijing city legislator, Junius Ho, who has been a vocal critic of the protests, had urged his supporters to clean up the approximately 100 Lennon Walls around the city on Saturday.
The walls are named after the John Lennon Wall in communist-controlled Prague in the 1980s that was covered with Beatles lyrics and messages of political grievance.
However, in a message posted late on Friday his Facebook page on Friday, Ho said “for the sake of safety” the Lennon Walls would not be cleared up, only the streets.
“We will clean up the environment with a peaceful and rational attitude,” he said.
The anti-government protesters are angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing on Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” formula that ensures freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including the right of assembly and an independent judiciary.
China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” arrangement and denies interfering. It has accused foreign governments including the United States and Britain, of inciting the unrest.
The demonstrations have taken on their own rhythm over the months and now tend to peak on the weekends, often with anti-government activists, many masked and in black, throwing petrol bombs at police, trashing metro stations, blocking airport roads and lighting street fires.
At times, they have been confronted by supporters of Beijing wielding sticks.
More pro-democracy protests are planned this weekend including a sit in the Yuen Long suburban subway station, marking two months since activists were attacked by a mob there.
The city’s transit operator, MTR Corp, said it would close train stations near potential protest sites, including Yuen Long and Tuen Mun, for safety reasons starting from early afternoon.
Protesters had said on Friday that while they did not want violence, they would defend themselves if they were attacked.


Afghan head of peace talks says ready for dialogue with Taliban

Updated 3 min 3 sec ago

Afghan head of peace talks says ready for dialogue with Taliban

  • Abdullah Abdullah: ongoing lull in violence set the tone for launching the peace talks
  • Taliban offered a rare three-day cease-fire that ended on Tuesday night to mark the Eid Al-Fitr

KABUL: A top Afghan official appointed to lead the much-awaited peace talks with the Taliban said Saturday his team was ready to start “at any moment” with the insurgents.
Abdullah Abdullah, who heads a council to represent the government in negotiations, said an ongoing lull in violence triggered by a surprise cease-fire offered by the insurgents had set the tone for launching the peace talks.
“The announcement of the cease-fire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners have all paved the way for a good beginning,” Abdullah said at his first press conference since taking on the role.
“The negotiating team is ready to begin the talks at any moment,” he said.
However, he added that there must be a fresh cease-fire during the talks.
The Taliban offered a rare three-day cease-fire that ended on Tuesday night to mark the Eid Al-Fitr festival.
Officials have blamed the Taliban for carrying out some deadly attacks against security forces since the cease-fire ended, but also acknowledged that the temporary truce has led to an overall fall in violence across much of the country.
The government responded to the cease-fire by accelerating the release of hundreds of Taliban prisoners.
The peace talks between the government and Taliban were scheduled to begin before March 10.
The United States has pushed the two sides to begin negotiating with an aim to end the nearly two-decades old war in the impoverished country.
Washington has signed a separate deal with the Taliban, which stipulates that all foreign forces will be withdrawn from the country by May next year.
Abdullah was appointed to lead the peace talks after he ended his bitter political feud with President Ashraf Ghani earlier this month.
Abdullah had announced himself as a rival president after he rejected the result of the September election which was won by incumbent Ghani.