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The police said it rejected the organizers’ request for a candlelight vigil because it would violate coronavirus social distancing rules that ban gatherings of more than eight people.
Hong Kong has reported five local infections of the coronavirus in the last two days, breaking a nearly two-week streak of no new cases outside of those brought in from abroad.
The rejection would be the first time in 30 years that the vigil, which normally draws a huge crowd to an outdoor space, is not held in Hong Kong.
The decision follows a vote by China’s ceremonial parliament to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and enact national security legislation for the semi-autonomous territory. Democracy activists and many legal experts worry that the law could curtail free speech and opposition political activities.
The events prompted hundreds of residents to apply for passports that could allow them to move to the United Kingdom. Throngs of people lined up at DHL courier outlets across the city Monday to send documents to the U.K. to apply for or renew what is known as a British National (Overseas) passport.
“My BNO passport expired in 2004, but at the time I didn’t renew it because I trusted China,” said 40-year-old Peter Chan, who works in asset management and waited in line for more than two hours.
Chan said he was worried about political and security issues in Hong Kong stemming from the national security law as well as a push by the territory’s legislature to enact a bill that would make it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem.
Even though there is rising anti-immigrant and anti-Asian sentiment in the U.K., “it’s still better than Hong Kong,” he said. “In Hong Kong, you never know what will happen tomorrow.”
The rush to apply for passports came after Britain said last week that it might allow holders of the document to stay in the country for a year or more. The proposal came after China’s legislature decided it would enact a national security law for Hong Kong.
The move is aimed at clamping down on a pro-democracy movement that has at times resulted in violent clashes between protesters and the police. Critics say the law erodes the “one country, two systems” framework that promised Hong Kong freedoms not found in mainland China for 50 years.
Protesters demonstrated against the security law at lunchtime Monday at a luxury shopping mall in the Central business district.
The British National (Overseas) passport, which was issued to Hong Kongers when it was a British colony, allows them to visit the country for an extended period but falls short of offering them citizenship rights.
As of February, nearly 350,000 Hong Kong residents held BNO passports, although the U.K. government estimated that there are 2.9 million people in the city of 7.5 million who are eligible for the passport.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.