Small protests have erupted in Hong Kong as hundreds of people gathered in several shopping centres to call for independence and the resignation of the city’s Beijing-backed leader.
The semi-autonomous Chinese city last year was rocked by months of often-violent demonstrations triggered by the introduction of a now-scrapped extradition bill. The demonstrations later morphed into a broader pro-democracy movement, but mass arrests and the coronavirus pandemic ushered in a period of calm in recent months.
But with Hong Kong successfully flattening its curve of COVID-19 infections, there has been a revival in anti-government protests over the last couple of weeks.
Small flashmob demonstrations broke out in at least eight shopping centres throughout Sunday, prompting riot police to rush in and disperse crowds of activists and shoppers on Mother’s Day.
At least three arrests were made while groups of officers conducted multiple stop and searches.
Live footage also showed police issuing on the spot fines of 2,000 Hong Kong dollars ($260) to those allegedly breaching emergency anti-virus measures banning more than eight people gathering in public.
Authorities had banned an application for a march on Sunday, so small groups of masked protesters instead played a game of cat-and-mouse with police in different shopping centres, a tactic used frequently last year.
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“This is just a warm-up, our protest movement needs to start again,” a university student who gave his name as “B” told AFP news agency.
“It’s a sign that the movement is coming back to life, we all need to wake up now.”
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who has been staunchly backed by Beijing, has record-low approval ratings.
The chief executive has resisted calls for universal suffrage or an independent inquiry into the handling of the protests by the police.
She has previously promised to heal divisions but her administration has offered little in the way of reconciliation or a political solution.
On Wednesday, China’s Hong Kong affairs office condemned protesters as a “political virus”, warning the territory would never be calm until the demonstrators were removed.
Plans to pass a law banning insulting China’s national anthem sparked scuffles in the city’s legislature on Friday.
Top Beijing officials have suggested opposition legislators who blocked the bill with filibustering could be prosecuted and have also called for a new anti-sedition law to be passed.
Al Jazeera and news agencies