Hong Kong police set up a heavy security presence around the government headquarters in Admiralty on Wednesday, in anticipation of demonstrations against the second reading of the controversial national anthem bill at the Legislative Council (LegCo).
Police erected water barriers, sealed pavement bricks and secured metal fences – often used by protesters to form roadblocks – around the Central Government Offices.
According to local media, the force has set aside at least 3,500 officers to handle potential demonstrations.
There have been online calls for a general strike and encirclement of the LegCo Complex, to halt the passing of the proposed law which would criminalise insulting the national anthem March of the Volunteers, punishable by a fine of up to HK$50,000 and three years behind bars.
The footbridge connecting the government headquarters and Admiralty Centre was sealed off at midnight. Long queues emerged as police checked staff cards of government workers before allowing them to enter the building through the Citic Tower footbridge.
Members of the press also had to present their credentials to officers on the footbridge.
According to police on Facebook, some drivers took part in a “slow-drive” protest at the Hong Kong Island exit of the Cross Harbour Tunnel. Vehicles concerned were stopped and searched by officers.
Police also found objects on Po Lam Road in Tseung Kwan O and nails on Wuhu Street in Hung Hom.
Minor disruptions were seen at MTR stations, with railway services at North Point, Tin Hau, Nam Cheong and HKU briefly suspended after train doors were blocked by hard objects.
Police also found some discarded barriers on the train tracks at Kwai Hing MTR station, which were cleared before services began.
Students from over 20 secondary schools also called for a class boycott on the first day of school following months of suspension due to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to police on Facebook, at least seven people have been arrested on Wednesday morning.
At around 4 am, police arrested two men – aged 16 and 22 – in Wong Tai Sin for “possession of instruments for unlawful purposes,” after they found cable ties, a box cutter, a pair of scissors on them.
Two secondary students – aged 14 and 15 – were arrested in Tsuen Wan under the same charge, plus “loitering,” after officers found helmets, respirators and other protest gear in their belongings.
A 15-year-old and 18-year-old were apprehended in Sham Shui Po for possessing petrol bombs, while a 16-year-old who had a screwdriver was also arrested in Kwai Chung.
Security chief John Lee later told the legislature that ten people were arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of carrying weapons.
Online calls for protests were also spurred by opposition to Beijing’s decision to directly insert national security laws into the annex of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, bypassing the local legislature.
Critics have said the legislation – prohibiting secession, sedition and subversion – would signal the death of the city’s cherished freedoms.
On Tuesday, the force issued a statement condemning plans to gather and disrupt traffic, saying those involved would face arrest: “Police will not tolerate any illegal actions that breach social peace.”
“Resolute enforcement actions will be taken. Offenders will be arrested and any vehicles that caused serious obstruction will be swiftly towed away,” the added.