Chinese military vehicles have been seen moving across the border into Hong Kong, in what the military said were regular troop movements, as fears rose that the city could see a Beijing-led crackdown after months of political unrest.
Following witness reports of the movements in the early hours of Thursday, state-run news agency Xinhua released a report that the Hong Kong Garrison of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was making a scheduled rotation and that it was an “annual normal routine”.
The images published by Xinhua showed armoured carriers and trucks carrying troops at the border, and a naval vessel arriving in Hong Kong.
In the previous two rotations – in 2017 and 2018 – state media reports noted that the number of troops and equipment had not changed. This year the report does not include that detail. It is estimated there are between 8,000 and 10,000 troops in the garrison, on either side of the border.
The movements come before a major anti-government demonstration planned for Saturday, as Hong Kong nears its third month of mass protests. On Thursday, the organiser of the demonstration, Civil Human Rights Front, received notice that police had banned the event.
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Police have banned a rally and march planned for Saturday by the group behind Hong Kong’s biggest demonstrations, in an unprecedented move slammed by the organisers who accused the government of “declaring war on all peaceful protesters”.
And just hours after the Civil Human Rights Front was informed of the decision, its convenor Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit and his assistant were attacked by two masked men with baseball bats.
Citing safety concerns, the force officially rejected the front’s application to hold a rally at Chater Garden in Central at 3pm and an associated march to Beijing’s liaison office in Western district, in a five-page letter.