0830 GMT December 14, 2019
It was a rare public appearance by the People’s Liberation Army on the streets of the semiautonomous territory, where the local government’s inability to end more than five months of often violent protest has fueled speculation that Beijing could deploy its troops, AP reported.
Running in formation with brooms instead of rifles, they chanted in military cadence before joining street cleaners removing debris near Hong Kong Baptist University, where police fired tear gas during at protesters earlier this week.
Most anti-government protesters left Hong Kong’s universities Saturday after occupying them for about a week. Small contingents that remained harassed some of those cleaning up and kept a major cross-harbor tunnel closed.
For a city now accustomed to fierce weekend clashes between police and protesters, Hong Kong had a relatively quiet Saturday. About 1,000 people turned out for an annual Gay Pride event in the center of the city.
Dozens of Chinese troops, dressed in black shorts and olive drab T-shirts, came out from a nearby barracks to pick up paving stones, rocks and other obstacles that had cluttered the street and prevented traffic from flowing. Hong Kong riot police kept watch from nearby streets.
China, which maintains a garrison of about 10,000 soldiers in Hong Kong, publicly noted several times earlier during the protests that it could deploy them, though technically it would have to be requested by Hong Kong’s government.
There were scattered incidents of protesters arguing with people clearing roadways, and in one instance, throwing a gasoline bomb near City University of Hong Kong.
Protesters also massed near Hong Kong University in the evening to try to block a main road again, but they were stopped by police firing pepper-spray balls.
Several dozen protesters remained at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, some keeping watch on the blocked access road to the Cross-Harbor Tunnel, where they torched the toll booths on previous nights.
Traffic disruptions continued to plague parts of Hong Kong, and schools and universities remained closed in the city of 7.5 million people.
Now in their sixth month, the anti-government protests have grown increasingly violent even as they have shrunk in size, often causing chaos in the streets.
The protests were sparked by a government decision to submit legislation that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to the mainland. Activists saw it as an erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” formula implemented in 1997, when Britain returned the territory to China.
The soldiers could be seen helping to clear the roads near their barracks in Hong Kong, carrying brooms in this picture as they jogged.