Today in Security - Hong Kong Protests Escalate

Today in Security: Hong Kong Protests Escalate

​​Hong Kong police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters gathered outside government headquarters on Wednesday, who are opposing a proposed extradition bill, the Associated Press​ (AP) reports.

The afternoon violence marked a major escalation in the semiautonomous Chinese city's biggest political crisis in years. It came after protesters earlier in the day forced the delay of a legislative debate over the bill, which would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent for trial in mainland China. The proposed measure has become a lightning rod for concerns over greater Chinese control and erosion of civil liberties in the territory.

The mainly young crowd overflowed onto a major downtown road as they overturned barriers and clashed with police. When some appeared to have breached the police cordon around the building, the police launched their response, which also included firing pepper spray and water hoses, AP reports.

Earlier, a curt government statement said the legislative session, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.,​ would be changed to a later time. Officials gave no indication of when that would be and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam canceled a scheduled news briefing.

The protests are the largest since pro-democracy demonstrations shut down parts of the Asian financial center for more than three months in 2014. Some also consider the protests as a serious challenge to China's ruling Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, who has in the past said he would not tolerate Hong Kong being used as a base to challenge the party's authority. And they are also giving vent to young Hong Kong residents alienated by a political process dominated by the territory's economic elite.

At a brief news conference held as the chaos swirled just outside, the Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung called the demonstration a riot. That could mean long jail terms for anyone arrested, adding to concerns that Hong Kong's government is using public disturbance laws to intimidate political protesters, AP reports.

For guidance on dealing with protests from a security standpoint, see Martin Herman’s article “Preparing for Prot​ests” in Security Management magazine.​