Hong Kong horse races, fireworks called off amid protest threat

By Donny Kwok and Twinnie Siu
A pro-China supporter is escorted out of a shopping mall by police after waving the national flag of China, at Harbour City in Hong Kong

By Donny Kwok and Twinnie Siu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's Jockey Club cancelled all races planned for Wednesday after pro-democracy protesters said they would target the Happy Valley racecourse where a horse part-owned by a pro-China lawmaker was due to run.

The government also said fireworks to mark Chinese National Day on Oct. 1 had been called off.

The Jockey Club said it had been "monitoring the situation" closely in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, which has been rocked my more than three months of sometimes violent protests.

"It has conducted a thorough risk assessment of the race meeting tonight and concluded that it should be cancelled in order to preserve the security and safety of people and horses," the club said in a statement, without specifically mentioning the protests.

A horse called Hong Kong Bet that had been due to run in the evening programme is part-owned by lawmaker Junius Ho, who has taken a firm line on the protesters, calling them "black-shirted thugs".

Ho said he was "astonished" by the cancellation.

"A lot of people (deeply regret) such a decision being taken and are worried about the negative impact that (it) may bring to Hong Kong racing and Hong Kong as an international city as well as a leader in the horse-racing world," he said in a statement. "I fully endorse those worries."

Ho has called for Hong Kong "clean-up day" on Saturday, targeting anti-government graffiti in 18 districts.

"Man up! Sign Up! Clean Up!" he says on his campaign flier.

Happy Valley, nestled in the hills of Hong Kong island, is a tightly populated, up-market residential area next to the Causeway Bay shopping district. There has been a horse-racing track there since just after British colonial rule began in the mid-1800s.

A few hundred soccer fans, many wearing the strips of their favourite European teams, gathered in a Causeway Bay park on Wednesday for a human chain urging people to "fight for Hong Kong".

Police fired water cannon and volleys of tear gas on Sunday to disperse protesters, many of them masked and wearing black, who threw petrol bombs and set fires in Causeway Bay and the nearby Central district.

In a direct challenge to Beijing, some protesters threw bricks at police outside the Chinese People's Liberation Army base and set fire to a red banner proclaiming the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.


ANGER AT BEIJING

Demonstrators are angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city's affairs despite a promise of autonomy.

The Hong Kong government said on Wednesday a giant fireworks display over the harbour planned for Oct. 1 had been called off "in view of the latest situation and having regard to public safety".

The spark for the latest protests in June was planned legislation, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people accused of breaking Chinese laws to be sent to the mainland for trial. But they have since broadened into calls for universal suffrage.

Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that ensures freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including right of assembly and an independent judiciary.

Sunday's violence followed a rally outside the British Consulate where protesters said "one country, two systems" was dead and urged Britain to call on China to stand by its promises.

China says it is committed to the Hong Kong formula, denies meddling and says the city is an internal Chinese issue. It has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the unrest and told them to mind their own business.


(Additional reporting by Clare Jim, Farah Master and Martin Pollard; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Timothy Heritage)