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Hong Kongers protest ahead of electoral reform vote

In a continuation of last year’s protests, yellow umbrellas once again covered the streets of Hong Kong as thousands marched through the city on June 14 against proposed electoral reforms that limit who can run for the city’s top government position.

“I am confident that the lawmakers will vote down the proposal. I am here to show them my support,” 76-year-old protester Chow Fat-leung told the South China Morning Post. “I took part in [last year’s] Occupy movement for more than 50 days. Now I am coming out to protest for my children and my grandchildren.”

On June 17, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council began debating a bill that would allow citizens in Hong Kong to vote for the head of the city’s government, known as the chief executive, in elections in 2017, but would only allow pre-screened, pro-Chinese mainland government candidates to run. More than 1,000 protesters showed up outside of the Legislative Council before the legislative body was adjourned for the day. According to Reuters, most were supporters of the Chinese mainland government while only about 400 were protesting against the bill. The debate should come to a close by Friday when lawmakers finally vote on the proposed reforms.

“This is not genuine universal suffrage,” Martin Lee, founding chairman of Hong Kong’s Democratic party, told the Guardian. “The people of Hong Kong are given the vote but they select all the candidates. This is rotten. This is totally unacceptable.”

On Sunday, over 3,000 protesters, much less than the 50,000 expected, marched from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to the Legislative Council building in Admiralty, Hong Kong demanding that lawmakers reject the proposed reforms. Along the way, they were also met by dozens of pro-Beijing supporters of the electoral reforms who hurled insults at the protesters and called them “running dogs of Western Imperialists.” The march, organized by a coalition of groups calling itself the “Citizens Against Pseudo-Universal Suffrage Campaign,” was only the first planned protest as activists plan to hold nightly assemblies outside the Legislative Council until the vote happens.

Widespread protests originally broke out last September and October over these electoral reforms with large groups of students and activists blocking major roadways and occupying public spaces. The struggle became known as the “umbrella movement” as protesters used umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas.

According to a poll done by three Hong Kong universities, 44.9 percent of Hong Kong’s citizens support the proposal while 40.9 percent oppose it.

On June 15, Hong Kong police also said they arrested 10 people engaged in an alleged bomb plot. The six men and four women, all between the ages of 21 and 58, were charged with “conspiracy to manufacture explosives” and were accused by police of belonging to a “radical organization.” Police claimed that they did not find any actual bombs but did find raw materials needed to make a bomb along with airguns, pamphlets, Guy Fawkes masks and computers. They also claimed to have seized maps marking Wan Chai and Admiralty, the districts where the Legislative Council and central government offices are located. Police then issued a press release urging people to keep “a safe distance from the violent protesters” in what Leung Kwok-hung, a Hong Kong lawmaker who participated in last year’s protests, labeled “a smear campaign.”

Hong Kong’s current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying furthered the smear campaign by stating that peaceful protests lead to violence.

“Even if these activities are nonviolent, if we rationalize them, we will only let people with a violent tendency use the same reason to rationalize their violent behavior,” Leung told the South China Morning Post. “Hong Kong’s community should not tolerate any illegal activities, no matter whether these activities are nonviolent or violent.”

Police claim to still be investigating the motives of the alleged radical bomb-makers, but have said that the maps with Admiralty marked off are evidence that the plot was tied to the upcoming vote.

The proposed bill would need two-thirds of the Legislative Council’s 70 members to vote for it to pass. Senior Chinese officials privately told Reuters that they expect the reforms to be passed. But at least 27 Legislative Council members, who themselves participated in the umbrella movement last year, have promised to reject the bill, enough to stop it from passing. As a result, many activists, despite the smears against protesters, do not expect the bill to pass. And so for now, the protesters are planning to camp outside the Legislative Council until the vote happens and hoping that the lawmakers keep their word. If the bill ultimately passes, more protests are expected. Police even issued a risk assessment warning of the “likelihood of the Legislative Council complex being stormed by radical groups in the next couple of days.”

“We know that Beijing will not budge,” Nathan Law, leader of the Federation of Students, told the New York Times. “We’re here to tell the legislators to keep to their promises and veto the proposal.”