Hong Kong Toughens Rhetoric To Avoid Olympic Games Protests

HONG KONG: Hong Kong is making every effort to ensure that the Olympic equestrian events go without a hitch, but onlookers warn the tough rhetoric is a mask for a clampdown on any embarrassing dissent.

With fewer than two months to go before the world’s top riders gather here for the eventing, dressage and show jumping events, the authorities have revealed a string of tough measures.

Up to 4,000 police officers will be on duty at any one time during the three-week event, and all police leave has been cancelled from the end of July until September, senior officers have said.

There will be restricted flying zones and limited access by waterways near the venues, reports have said, while the horses will be under 24-hour surveillance at the specially-built stables.

Earlier this week, the rhetoric was stepped up further as Hong Kong’s new immigration director, Simon Peh, seemed to suggest a potential terrorist threat.

“Intelligence said some people are plotting to sabotage the Olympic Games, including the equestrian events,” Peh told local reporters, according to The Standard newspaper.

“Of course this kind of intelligence will continually change… right now the main individuals who might sabotage the event are terrorists,” he said, insisting any potential troublemakers would be banned.

The government quickly played down the remarks, insisting the risk of attack was moderate.

Timothy Fok, president of Hong Kong Sports Federation and a key Olympic organiser, warned such talk could scare off much-needed visitors.

“Lots of international friends are coming to Hong Kong in the run-up to the games. The government should give a clearer message,” he told Cable TV.

Critics said Peh was scaremongering to justify tough border controls.

“His message paves the way for the government to deny entry to those so-called trouble makers,” James To, a pro-democracy legislator, told AFP.

“The mention of the threat of terrorism serves to encourage Hong Kong people to associate the protesters with ‘terrorists’ and saves the authorities the task of giving a detailed explanation on why they have to stop protesters from coming in.”

Immigration authorities faced criticism earlier this year when they refused entry to protesters hoping to mark the Olympic torch relay’s passage through the southern Chinese city.

Hong Kong enjoys much-cherished freedoms absent in the rest of China, including the right to peaceful protest, after it was handed back to the Chinese from colonial power Britain in 1997.

However, this freedom has raised the possibility Hong Kong would be targeted during the Games by anti-China campaigners unable to protest in the mainland.

Experts said the chances of a serious attack were no more than at any high-profile event, but campaigners could target the event.

“Our assessment is that the likelihood of a full blown terrorist attack during the Olympics in Hong Kong is moderate,” said Steve Vickers, chief executive officer of security firm International Risk, which has been providing regular threat assessments to clients in the run-up to the Games.

“We think that various people will try and disrupt events to promote their causes. But people will be ill-advised to do so, because they will face the community in Hong Kong whole-heartedly opposed to them.”

Protesters during the torch relay faced a barrage of abuse from pro-China supporters, the latest sign of a strengthening patriotism here.

Ticket sales have also been strong, indicating a growing interest in a sport that until recently was little understood in the horse racing-mad city. – AFP/ac

Channel News Asia

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