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Asia-Pacific

Hong Kong caught up in "fishball revolution"

media  
Police and protesters clash in Hong Kong's Mong Kok area, February 2016

Social network activists in Hong Kong are protesting against the government's crackdown on illegal street vendors on Monday, in what some are calling the "fishball revolution". The movement reflects the growing tension between a pro-Beijing government and Hongkongers keen to defend their local culture.

The riots began with a local police crackdown on street vendors during the city's Lunar New Year celebrations.

Many locals are particularly attached to the traditional street festivities. For them it was another sign of what they see as an increasing threat to Hong Kong's lifestyle from mainland China.

Every year traditional food vendors take to the streets of Hong Kong to cook.

Adrian Champion, a local democracy supporter who was present at the scene, says the festivities are "hugely popular, especially among working class people".

"It's just one of those elements of traditional Hong Kong street life," he explains, "which is slowly being eroded as part of Hong Kong slowly turning into just another Chinese city."

So is there a connection between these events and the large-scale protests of the large-scale Occupy Central movement two years ago?

Most of the protesters were answering a call from the activist group Hong Kong Indigenous, which did not play a central role in the 2014 protests.

But there is a broader connection between Monday's riots and the Occupy movement, which left a bitter feeling among many pro-democracy protesters.

Adrian Champion says the crowd's reaction stems from a perceived failure of the largely peaceful Occupy movement:

"In the wake of the Occupy movement, there was a birth of more radical, localist movements," he explains. "They said, 'the police are attacking us with batons, surely it is legitimate to fight back!'"

Hong Kong Indigenous, who were part of Monday's riots, were one such group.

"They've turned their cheek so many times, they've decided it's now in their interest to fight back if the authorities attack them with violence first," Champion explains.

Meanwhile it remains unclear how much support the demonstrators are receiving in the rest of Hong Kong.

Many students and social network users are using the hashtag #fishballrevolution to express their support for the demonstrators. 

But according to Jason Ng, an author who lives in Hong Kong, the city is split between those who think the protesters went too far, and those who think their methods are increasingly necessary.

"The public is extremely polarised," he says. "Half the people feel that the protesters were trouble-makers, who violated the idea that all protests should be peaceful. The other side think Hong Kong has awakened from their slumber, and that they're more in line with international standards, where people retaliate rather than just walk away."

The scale of the violence is a new phenomenon in Hong Kong. Demonstrators could be seen throwing glass bottles, bricks and wooden planks as the police fired warning shots in the air.

Ng says the shift towards more violent protests could be a sign of things to come:

"It's a slippery slope: this time it's throwing rocks, next time it will be something else," he says. "That's where the city seems to be heading, unless the root cause of the problem is addressed, which is the fact that we have an unaccountable, unelected government."

Meanwhile many activists have spoken out against both the police clampdown and the violent turn the events have taken.

Authorities arrested 55 protesters in connection with the riots and have launched an inquiry into the warning shots fired by officers during the unrest.

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