Hong Kong police have arrested eight people, including a prominent pro-independence activist, on suspicion of having offensive weapons and explosives, ahead of a weekend of mass protests.
On Thursday night riot police raided an industrial building in Sha Tin in Hong Kong’s New Territories. A statement said they found petrol bombs and weapons.
The police said seven men and one woman, between the ages of 24 and 31 were arrested. They included Andy Chan, founder of the Hong Kong National party, which was banned last year. Dozens of protesters surrounded local police stations from Thursday night into Friday morning, chanting “Free the martyrs!” according to footage from Hong Kong media.
In a separate operation a family of three was detained on suspicion of possessing explosives, after police raided an apartment and seized partially made smoke bombs.
The arrests come after 44 detained protesters were charged with rioting, a crime that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Critics say authorities are using harsher measures in attempt to intimidate demonstrators.
The political crisis in Hong Kong has deepened in the past few weeks, after almost two months of protests that began over an extradition bill that would allow suspects be sent to mainland China. Focus has now turned to authorities and the police, following an attack on commuters by suspected triad members, as more segments of Hong Kong society have begun to condemn the government for its handling of the incident.
In a rare move for the city’s normally politically neutral public sector, civil servants have planned a rally on Friday, and medical workers will also demonstrate. Large-scale protests are planned for Saturday and Sunday while a citywide strike has been called for Monday.
Ahead of the protests, Beijing has ramped up its accusations that foreign countries are “fanning the fire” of unrest in the city. China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi on Thursday ordered the US to “immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any form”.
On Friday, Xie Feng, commissioner for the ministry of foreign affairs in Hong Kong, called on foreign forces to “withdraw their black hands” and stop interfering with “China’s internal affairs”.
Donald Trump has abstained from commenting directly on the demonstrations, referring to them as “riots”, using language also employed by Beijing to describe the mass protests, many of which have been peaceful.
“Somebody said that at some point they’re going to want to stop that,” Trump told reporters, referring to China’s potential response to the crisis. “But that’s between Hong Kong and that’s between China, because Hong Kong is a part of China.”