Armed police drill only minutes from Hong Kong border
China readies armoured cars close to crossing as pro-democracy supporters plot weekend of protest
Members of China's paramilitary People's Armed Police marched and practised crowd control tactics at a sports complex in Shenzhen across from Hong Kong yesterday, in what has been interpreted as a threat against pro-democracy protesters.
The sound of marching boots and synchronised shouts echoed from the grounds. Officers in green camouflage stood guard at closed entrances.
A stadium security guard said "it wasn't clear" when the paramilitary police would leave the grounds.
Chinese state media have only said the Shenzhen exercises were planned earlier and were not directly related to the unrest in Hong Kong, though they came shortly after the central government in Beijing said the protests were beginning to show the "sprouts of terrorism".
From a distance, police could be seen conducting drills in military fatigues, using shields, poles and other riot-control gear.
In one exercise, two groups marched in formation with those in front raising shields as if to protect themselves from projectiles.
Others behind held red flags and banners. The words "the law" and "prosecuted" could be seen on one.
Outside, dozens of armoured carriers and trucks sat in the car park of the Shenzhen Bay Stadium, close to a bridge linking mainland China to the former British colony.
Weeks of protests in Hong Kong have been marked by increasing violence and a shutdown of the airport earlier this week.
The demonstrators are demanding expanded political rights and the scrapping of legislation that could have seen criminal suspects sent to mainland China.
A weekend of protests was expected to begin last night with a university student-led "power to the people" rally in Chater Garden, a public square in the financial district.
A pro-democracy march was planned for today along with a separate pro-government "Save Hong Kong" rally, ahead of a major pro-democracy rally called for tomorrow.
Police have denied permission for tomorrow's march but protesters have ignored such denials in the past.
China has pressured foreign and Hong Kong companies to support the ruling Communist Party's position against the protesters.
The chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways, one of Hong Kong's most prominent companies, resigned yesterday following pressure by Beijing on the carrier over participation by some of its employees in the anti-government protests.
Cathay Pacific said Rupert Hogg resigned "to take responsibility" following "recent events".
The company chairman, John Slosar, said in a statement the airline needed new management because events had "called into question" its commitment to safety and security. "This is regrettable as we have always made safety and security our highest priority," he said.
On Monday, Mr Hogg threatened employees with "disciplinary consequences" if they took part in "illegal protests".
Last week, China's aviation regulator said Cathay Pacific employees who "support or take part in illegal protests, violent actions, or overly radical behaviour" are banned from staffing flights to mainland China.
Yesterday, Frenchman Alain Robert - who has been dubbed "Spiderman" for his unauthorised ascents of skyscrapers - hung a banner appealing for peace as he scaled the 62- storey Cheung Kong Centre, a landmark Hong Kong building that is the base for property tycoon Li Ka-shing's business empire.
The banner showed the Chinese and Hong Kong flags over a handshake and a small yellow sun with a smiley face.
"The banner is to give joy and smile to the people of Hong Kong," he said as he sat in a taxi about to leave for his climb. He added that he didn't want to get "mixed up in the political situation".
The 57-year-old was taken to a police station afterwards. It wasn't immediately clear if he would be charged. He was banned in 2017 from returning to Hong Kong for one year after climbing up another building.