HONG KONG -- Scores of police officers donning crowd-control gear piled in front of the heavily guarded government complex in Hong Kong’s Central district late Thursday afternoon. Nearby protesters were unsure if another physical crackdown was imminent, but the influx of police in the area ratcheted up tensions at the scene.
“[The police] have been awfully quiet for a long time,” said Adarsh Rai, a 15-year-old student at the scene.
At around 3:30pm Thursday afternoon, police officers had blocked off a large section of the street in front of government buildings along Tim Wa Avenue in the Central district and were steadily entering the area in larger numbers carrying shields and bags full of gear. Some protesters said they spotted officers carrying boxes marked “corrosive” and “flammable.”
The increased security presence at the scene comes after a standoff early Thursday in which protesters camped outside the government complex and threatened to occupy the inside of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s building unless he resigned.
By 5:00pm, the crowd of police officers and protesters, separated by metal barriers, had swelled to several hundred. Some demonstrators shouted for the police to stop entering the area.
Police used loudspeakers to request the crowd to move to let in additional cars, including an ambulance, but protesters refused to budge. Meanwhile, nearby volunteers rushed to distribute facial masks goggles to the protest crowd.
“They’re trying to fool us,” some volunteers said as they moved through the crowd, referring to suspicions that the officers were bringing batons and rubber bullets into the government complex. The dozens of officers that remained outside facing the protesters were not equipped with any riot gear, however.
The scene still remained largely peaceful early Thursday evening as protesters kept a watchful eye on officers entering the area. Bear Yu, a 30-year-old interior designer at the scene who had been protesting since last Friday, said he did not expect police to make any moves soon. “The atmosphere’s so tense, I don’t think there will be any action today,” he said.
But police spokesman Chief Superintendent Hui Chun-tak said the police would use “appropriate force” if the situation warranted later in the evening.