Hong Kong police announced Monday that they had apprehended nine people in a possible bomb-making plot just days before a contentious legislative vote on the region’s electoral system.
Police, speaking at a news conference in Hong Kong, said the suspects were part of a “local radical group” but did not provide details. Some Hong Kong news outlets, using unnamed police sources, linked the “suspected explosives” to the upcoming legislative vote, but top police officials deferred on such questions at the news conference.
Au Chin-chau, chief superintendent of the Hong Kong Police Force, said two of the suspects were arrested as they prepared to test chemicals that could be used as explosives. The others were arrested as police confiscated chemicals, air rifles, masks and other items, including stickers with political slogans.
Photos of the confiscated materials show several Guy Fawkes masks – also known as “vendetta masks” – favored by radical protesters. There were also stickers with Chinese characters protesting corruption and disparaging C.Y. Leung – also known as Leung Chung-ying – Hong Kong’s current chief executive.
Quoting an unnamed police source, the South China Morning Post said that police had confiscated triacetone triperoxide – also known as TATP – in making the arrest. TATP is an explosive chemical that has been used in past terrorist attacks worldwide.
Hong Kong’s Legislative Council is scheduled to start Wednesday mulling a “political reform proposal” that has the backing of Beijing. It would allow Hong Kongers to vote, for the first time, on the region’s chief executive, but only after a committee loyal to Beijing determined which two or three candidates who could be on the ballot.
Pro-democracy activists have panned the proposal as “fake democracy” and may have the votes to block it, once votes are counted by week’s end. If the proposal fails to get a two-thirds majority, the current system – with a committee choosing the chief executive – would remain in place. If it passes, it likely would spark a new round of protests, possibly some as large as those that rocked Hong Kong last fall.
A few thousand protesters took to the streets Sunday in Hong Kong to demonstrate against the Beijing-backed proposal. Those numbers were less than organizers had expected and far less than last fall’s street occupations. That prompted a government newspaper in Beijing on Monday to crow about flagging support for the movement.
Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997 on the promise that the former British colony would retain a “high degree of autonomy,” including an independent judiciary, for 50 years. Many in Hong Kong fear their freedoms will gradually be eroded as Beijing asserts more control over the region, an economic hub for both China and the Asia Pacific.
McClatchy special correspondent Tiantian Zhang contributed to this report.