Occupy Central Blockades Start in Hong Kong; Businesses on Alert

It was supposed to start on 1 October, a public holiday in Hong Kong and China, so as to minimize disruption to business and commerce. But as police in Hong Kong fired tear gas and pepper spray at student protesters in the evening of 28 September, organizers of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement announced that the sit-in would start on that very night instead.

"This is a sad day for Hong Kong," said Anson Chan in a statement. The 74-year-old former civil servant served as Chief Secretary, the city's second in command, from 1993 to 1997, when Britain handed over sovereignty to China. “Pictures of our police force firing pepper spray and tear gas into the faces of unarmed protesters will shame our government in front of the whole world.”

Thousands of people blockaded roads leading to the central business district while student protesters continued their vigil at government headquarters in nearby Admiralty. Hundreds of people also sat on the main road in the shopping districts of Causeway Bay and Mongkok.

Contingency planning

Businesses in the affected areas activated contingency plans that included staff working from home or satellite offices in the unaffected areas, which include Quarry Bay, where One Island East hosts some operations of JPMorgan, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and SWIFT.

Also not affected, at this point, is the 118-storey International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon, across the harbor from Central, Hong Kong's tallest building and host to the offices of Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and other major financial players.

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange, which is located in Central, announced it would be business as usual. As of 11:40 am on 29 September, the Hang Seng Index had fallen 1.7%. 

The protests were fueled by Beijing's decision in August for candidates to the post of chief executive to be vetted by a committee, with the option of nominations by the public at large ruled out. China had agreed to allow direct election of the chief executive in 2017. The decision to have a committee decide who can run or not is seen by the protesters as an attempt by the Chinese government to ensure that only its hand-picked candidates can run and win.

Injuries, arrests

As of 6:45 in the morning of 29 September, 41 people were reported injured. The police said they arrested 78 protesters for forcibly entering government premises, unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct and obstructing police officers.

One of those arrested was 17-year-old Joshua Wong, a leader of the Scholarism group that has been at the forefront of the student protests. He was ordered released by the High Court, which chided the police for holding him for an "unreasonably long" time. Detention without charges being filed is allowed in Hong Kong, but Justice Patrick Li ruled that holding Wong for more than 40 hours was not fair treatment.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying asked the protesters to disperse for the good of the city. "Hong Kong's stable development for so long has depended on everyone's abiding by peace and respecting the law," he said in a televised speech. "We don't want Hong Kong to be chaotic or for people's daily lives to be affected."

As of 9 am today, few of the protesters, if any, heeded his call.