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Hong Kong’s Lunar New Year fairs get a protest makeover

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Protest-themed Lunar New Year fairs have sprung up across Hong Kong to raise money and morale for the city’s pro-democracy movement despite stiff resistance from local authorities and pro-Beijing politicians.

The fairs are an annual staple in the run-up to the new year, which begins on Saturday and will see millions around the world welcome the Year of the Rat.

Usually the fairs stock flowers, fruits, dried goods and other traditional new year gifts.

In the past, political parties from across the spectrum set up stalls to raise money and awareness of their causes — often with satirical posters and products teasing their rivals.

But the government banned such stalls this year at the 15 official fairs after more than seven months of political unrest.

In response, nearly a dozen independent fairs have been set up across the city, selling merchandise laden with references to the pro-democracy protests.

At a fair on the steep slopes of the city’s Sai Ying Pun district, hundreds of shoppers formed long queues.

One stall was giving away cloth bags with Chinese calligraphy ambigrams that use the characters for both “Hong Kong” and “add oil”, a popular phrase of encouragement.

At another, a vendor was selling traditional “fai chun” new year greetings that people hang on their doors, blending traditional auspicious wishes with protest slogans and demands.

Many of the shoppers and vendors criticised the government’s decision to stop political parties setting up stalls at the official fairs.

“Cutting (them) seems to be one of the measures adopted by the government to punish the non-violent supporters of the protests,” said Tam Kwok-sun, 64, who was making fresh prints on T-shirts and bags at the fair on Centre Street.

Some of the independent fairs have met opposition, found it difficult to find venues and even had to cancel.

The fair in Sai Ying Pun had its length cut from 100 to 50 metres by local officials after pro-establishment politicians said it was unsafe.

“They rejected our application after the first meeting of the newly elected council,” said Camille Yam, a member of the pro-democracy camp which swept to victory in municipal-level elections back in November.

AFP

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