Hundreds of riot police took up posts in and around Hong Kong’s financial district on Wednesday ahead of a debate at the city’s Legislative Council over a bill that would criminalize disrespect of China’s national anthem.
Protests have returned to the streets of the Chinese-ruled city after Beijing last week proposed national security laws that drew global condemnation amid fears they will curb the freedoms enjoyed in the global financial center.
Protesters used bins and other debris to block some roads and police warned commuters to expect delays.
The proposed new national security laws triggered the first big street unrest in Hong Kong in months on Sunday. Images of police firing tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters evoked memories of the sometimes violent anti-government demonstrations that paralyzed parts of the city last year.
Activists say the security laws could bring an end to the autonomy of China’s freest city, supposedly guaranteed under a policy known as “one country, two systems” established when former colonial power Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.
Chinese authorities and the Beijing-backed government in Hong Kong say there is no threat to the city’s autonomy and the laws will be tightly focused.
Police vans and officers lined roads near the heart of the financial center as authorities braced for fresh protests.
“Although you’re afraid inside your heart, you need to speak out,” said Chang, 29, a clerk and protester dressed in black with a helmet respirator and goggles in her backpack.
“Our daily actions are now whether we need to buy a VPN, what to bring out because we’re afraid of stop and searches.”
Demand for virtual private networks (VPNs) have surged in Hong Kong as residents try to ensure their internet activity remains free of central government control.
Authorities erected a wall made of two-meter-tall (6 feet), white and blue plastic barriers filled with water around the city’s Legislative Council, extending across a nearby park up to Victoria Harbour.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said the United States would announce before the end of the week a strong response to the planned security legislation for Hong Kong.