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Protesters use umbrellas to shield themselves as people damage smart lamppost in Ngau Tau Kok in Hong Kong.
Reuters/Thomas Peter
Demonstrators use umbrellas for cover as smart lampposts are damaged in Hong Kong.
WISDOM OF THE CROWD?

Hong Kong protestors are attacking smart lampposts

Ephrat Livni
By Ephrat Livni

Senior reporter, law & politics, DC.

Protests in Hong Kong have been going on for 12 weeks. Today, a brief peaceful spell in the ongoing saga was broken.

Protestors took to the streets again for what began as a nonviolent demonstration but became yet another showdown with local police ending in tear gas, arrests, and injuries.

People weren’t the only ones to get hurt in the latest skirmishes. New smart lampposts, which local authorities say were installed to collect data on traffic, weather, and air quality, were targeted, too.

Some protestors view the lampposts with suspicion and believe they are actually surveillance tools—they are fitted with sensors, closed-circuit cameras, and data networks. About 50 of them have already been installed, and Hong Kong has plans to install 200 more. Demonstrators today demanded that the lampposts be removed from the streets and then took it upon themselves to do just that. They vandalized some lampposts, and one group managed to fell one by sawing the metal base and and using ropes.

Initially, the local protests began over a Chinese extradition law that has now been shelved but not repealed. Now, protestors are demanding free elections for the city’s top leader and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality over the course of the demonstrations. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, however, has said that a “platform for dialogue” must be created before demands can be considered and that peace must first be reached.

The attacks on the lampposts probably won’t help convince Lam to take the demonstrators’ demands seriously. But one of the organizers of today’s protest pointed out before it began that the new lampposts indicate that residents also have reason to be wary of the government. “Hong Kong people’s private information is already being extradited to China. We have to be very concerned,” Ventus Lau said, according to a Global News report.

As protestors marched in Hong Kong, Chinese authorities were gathered in nearby Shenzhen to discuss the situation. According to the South China Morning Post, mainland state media said attendees of the meeting learned that Beijing would “intervene” if Hong Kong officials cannot control the local situation. Earlier this month, however, Hong Kong police officials told journalists that there was neither a plan nor any protocol for Chinese forces to join them in dealing with protestors.

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