The threat of violence between pro-Beijing groups on a citywide mission to clean up so-called Lennon Walls and anti-government protesters intent on defending them fizzled out on Saturday, with no major confrontations reported.
There were some scuffles and arguments as Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, an outspoken pro-government lawmaker, and his supporters took down Post-it notes from several Lennon Walls - but protesters mostly waited a bit and plastered the walls with new messages.
When the clean-up campaign concluded in Southern district, Ho declared it a success.
"Apart from in Shau Kei Wan, where we received a passionate welcome and loud send-off from roaches, order and the atmosphere were generally good," Ho posted on Facebook, using "roaches" as a pejorative term for protesters.
He had earlier said 36,000 volunteers would work at 83 locations across the city, with supporters coming from the mainland. The turnout on Saturday was much lower.
Ho had also dialled down his "Clean Up HK" campaign late on Friday, instructing participants not to clean up the Lennon Walls and instead just pick up rubbish in the streets.
Even so, pro-government groups were seen across the city - including in Tuen Mun, Yuen Long, Sham Shui Po, Mong Kok, Wan Chai and Shau Kei Wan - removing messages from Lennon Walls. The colourful walls generally consist of Post-it notes, pictures and artwork in support of the anti-government movement, which erupted in June over a now-shelved extradition bill.
Ho showed up at about 8.45am in Tuen Mun, where many of his supporters are based, holding a broom.
"We did an assessment (and) we will avoid clashes," Ho told reporters. "If we can clean up the walls, we would like to do it. But if our action will lead to clashes, we won't force it. Our aim today is to fulfil a resident's responsibility to clean up Hong Kong."
When he showed up later in Shau Kei Wan, on Hong Kong Island, some residents told him to go home.
"Sweep up yourself," they chanted. "You are rubbish!"
Hong Kong has entered its 16th straight weekend of protests triggered by the extradition bill, which would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China. The government has since suspended the bill, but has rejecting other demands of the protesters, including an inquiry into the police's use of force and the implementation of universal suffrage.
Near Yuen Long MTR station, a dozen riot police arrived at about 10.30am after a fight broke out between a passer-by and a government supporter taking part in the clean-up. The pro-government man later hopped over a police vehicle and left.
Two assaults with liquids were reported in Ma On Shan. Two pro-government "cleaners" and a woman claimed they were sprayed with unknown fluids. All three were sent to Prince of Wales Hospital.
Some members of the clean-up crews denied being paid for their time.
"The cleaning job should be done by our government, but they failed to do it, so then let us do it," said a man surnamed Au Yeung, who appeared to be a group leader in Mong Kok.
He said he had no political stance but wanted to vent his anger at the anti-government protesters, who he said were being brainwashed by hostile forces.
A 30-year-old man, who works in technology and asked to be identified as Mr. Y, said he had been volunteering to clean posters off Lennon Walls for about a month.
"I think it's quite simple: you want a way to express yourself," he said. "It's good to see that there are some people supporting the activity. For so long, the majority of the people in this city have been silenced. It's a dictatorship of the people."
The protester camp also called for restraint, launching an online plea for supporters to avoid clashes at the Lennon Walls.
But protesters held nothing back in their mockery of Ho. In some locations, they plastered posters of his face on the ground, leaving his supporters no choice but to step on him and "clean up" his image.
New posters that appeared on Friday read "Thank you for cleaning, we will post a new batch tomorrow".
A Lennon Wall in Kowloon Bay was quickly rebuilt by protesters.
"I think tearing down the wall is sort of like doing a favour for us anti-government protesters," said a local resident surnamed Lo.
"It's funny because sometimes we want to update information on the Lennon Wall but are too afraid to be mistaken as 'paid cleaners'. But now, since Junius Ho's supporters did the job for us, we can just update it."
Leo, a Form Six student, came from his home in Tsing Yi to help rebuild the wall outside Amoy Plaza, where a violent fight broke out September 14 between government supporters and protesters.
"It doesn't matter if they take down the walls … we will put up a hundred more," he said.
It doesn't matter if they take down the walls … we will put up a hundred moreLeo, a Form Six student
Sophia Chan Shiu-chee, the city's health minister, said the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department had received some 1,000 complaints about the Lennon walls.
"Our colleagues have been monitoring whether serious hygienes issues are involved. If there are, they will do the cleaning. I repeat that there are no political considerations about this," she said.
Separately, a tribute area outside Prince Edward station was rebuilt on Saturday after it was "cleaned up" late on Friday. Supporters of the protest movement laid white flowers at the area calling for truth.
Prince Edward station was the scene of clashes between police and protesters on August 31. Some protesters still believe rumours that people died during the violence, although the police and other authorities, including the Hospital Authority and fire service, have repeatedly denied the accusations.
Ho's calls to clean up the Lennon Walls drew outcry even among the pro-establishment camp. Former lawmaker Lam Tai-fai, speaking on a radio programme, criticised Ho's campaign as pouring fuel on a fire and potentially provoking clashes that could go out of control.
Additional reporting by Sum Lok-kei
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