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PHOTOS: Hong Kong Government Arrests Hundreds Of Democracy Protesters, Warns ‘Violence Is Imminent’

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"PHOTOS: Hong Kong Government Arrests Hundreds Of Democracy Protesters, Warns ‘Violence Is Imminent’"

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Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents march on a downtown street

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents march on a downtown street

CREDIT: AP Photo/Kin Cheung

Police in Hong Kong early Wednesday morning arrested more than 500 protesters after the city’s annual protest to encourage more democracy in the territory. This year’s march has been fueled by Beijing’s insistence that it has the final say in the future of the territory and has prompted local officials to warn that violence could be imminent.

Earlier this week, voting concluded after a ten-day unofficial referendum on whether the capitalist enclave in China should have a direct say in just who runs the territory. In the ballot, which the Hong Kong government say has no legal standing, Hong Kong residents cast their votes on how the territory’s Chief Executive would be nominated. “The winning proposal, put forth by the Alliance for True Democracy, allows candidates to be nominated by 35,000 registered voters, or by any political party which secured at least 5% of the vote in the last election for Hong Kong’s legislative committee,” the BBC reported, with the Alliance’s option gaining 42 percent of the vote. A full 87 percent of the balloters agreed that Hong Kong should reject any plan for future elections that doesn’t meet international standards for democracy.

Protesters are arrested by police officers  outside HSBC headquarters in the financial distric

Protesters are arrested by police officers outside HSBC headquarters in the financial district

CREDIT: AP Photo/Vincent Yu

The referendum came after China’s central government last month released a new white paper on Hong Kong, the first official document laying out the country’s policy on the former British territory in more than two decades, reaffirming its total control over the territory. “The high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) is not full autonomy, nor a decentralized power,” the paper said. “It is the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership.” Beijing had previously agreed to allow a vote on the Chief Executive by 2017, but only on candidates the central government had approved.

Hundreds of protesters stage a peaceful sit-ins overnight on a street in the financial district in Hong Kong

Hundreds of protesters stage a peaceful sit-ins overnight on a street in the financial district in Hong Kong

CREDIT: AP Photo/Kin Cheung

Occupy Central, the organizers of the poll and a civil disobedience movement planned for later this year, and student groups quickly organized around the white paper’s declarations, leading to crowds of between 98,000 and several hundred thousand protesters taking to the streets. After most of the crowds had dispersed, a few hundred remained in Hong Kong’s financial district where they took part in a sit-in, where they planned to remain until Wednesday morning. After repeated warnings to take action, Hong Kong police began arresting protesters around 3 AM , and “continued until the end of the sit-in, when the remaining crowd – about 50 people – let out a cheer and dispersed on its own.”

Though the majority of those arrested were released, there are still 129 people in police custody according to the South China Morning Post. Among them are “three men who were found with a screwdriver, a paper cutter and a folding knife respectively, as well as a 21-year-old woman who was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer,” the SCMP reports. “Another 18 were released on bail, and required to report back later this month or next month. … None of those arrested have been charged so far, police said.”

APTOPIX Hong Kong China Tension

CREDIT: AP Photo/Kin Cheung

Democracy in Hong Kong is less of a taboo than the rest of China due to its history as a former British colony. Under the terms of the handover of the territory from the United Kingdom to China, the two sides agreed that the socialist system seen in the rest of the People’s Republic would not be practiced in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for the next fifty years. The “One Country, Two Systems” policy put into place in the Hong Kong Basic Law then left Hong Kong’s capitalism untouched, though still under Beijing’s overarching sovereignty. The handover occurred on July 1, 1997, a date that has since been appropriated for annual protests to encourage more autonomy and democracy in the territory. The protests took on a new life, though, when in 2003 they managed to convince Hong Kong’s government to shelve a controversial anti-subversion law known as Article 23.

But the tensions between the two systems remain and only appear to be growing as Hong Kong’s residents push for greater democracy. For now, though, Hong Kong’s leaders remain firmly aligned with Beijing — even to the point of not so subtly hinting at a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. “A showdown is getting more and more inevitable by the day, and some degree of violence is imminent,” Lau Nai-keung, a Hong Kong politician firmly in the mainland’s camp, said. “If worst comes to worst, the PLA [People's Liberation Army] will come out of its barracks.”

A protester is taken away by police officers

A protester is taken away by police officers

CREDIT: AP Photo/Vincent Yu

That warning has shades of the Tienanmen Square crackdown, which marked its twenty-fifth anniversary last month, in which the PLA brutally crushed student-led protests in Beijing. So far, the protests have remained peaceful and no demonstrators were injured during Wednesday’s arrests. But Hong Kong residents’ mistrust of the mainland has grown since the release of the white paper, with a recent poll showing nearly 44 percent of residents do not trust the central government. With the promise of Occupy Central’s protest movement still ahead, it remains to be seen how Beijing will react should Hong Kong cross one of the red-lines it set down in the white paper.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong people march

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong people march

CREDIT: AP Photo/Vincent Yu

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