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Police on alert in Hong Kong ahead of planned democracy rallies


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HONG KONG, May 1 : Riot police hit Hong Kong’s streets on Friday ahead of planned rallies by anti-Beijing protesters who were looking to defy restrictions on gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic to voice anger against authoritarian Chinese rule.
The semi-autonomous financial hub was upended by seven months of violent protests last year, hammering its reputation for stability and leaving the city deeply divided.
Widespread arrests, the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing measures ushered in four months of comparative calm.
But small protests have bubbled up in the past week and activists are hoping to use May Day to muster numbers once more.
Anti-China unions and social media posts have called for people to gather and shout slogans in their neighbourhoods on Friday afternoon, despite a ban on more than four people gathering in public places that is aimed at halting the virus.
Police ramped up their presence across the city on Friday morning, searching primarily young passengers at subway stations and in neighbourhoods where anti-government sentiment runs high.
The South China Morning Post reported that 3,000 riot police had been placed on standby with rubber bullets and tear gas at the ready.
Some encrypted chat groups used by protesters fretted that protesting while anti-virus laws remain in place might lead to large numbers of arrests, raising questions over whether significant crowds would risk gathering.
The annual Labour Day often sees protests around the world but this year’s are expected to be more tame given the ongoing global health crisis.

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