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Instagram, Chinese Media Restricted as Hong Kong Riots

Media in mainland China has limited its coverage of the severe social unrest taking place on the streets of Hong Kong.

In contrast, Hong Kong and international media have been carrying non-stop reports from the barricades, reporting as the crowds of protest change shape and the HK police respond with pepper spray and tear gas.

Students and political activists have taken to the streets of Hong Kong Island and parts of Kowloon in protest at government plans to introduce only limited democratic reforms in 2017. Universal suffrage has been promised, but authorities made it clear that only candidates approved by the central government in Beijing will be allowed.

Photo-sharing service Instagram has reportedly been blocked in mainland China from Sunday and Internet searches for the term “Occupy Central,” the name of one part of the protest movement, have been made unavailable.

The Hong Kong government has issued dozens of press releases calling for calm, denouncing the illegal demonstrations and denying reports that rubber bullets had been used.

It is precisely because of such rumors that media in mainland China operates under an elaborate system of government control. The PRC government only very rarely reports on social unrest in Chinese territory. Social media services with their servers overseas – such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook – have already been blocked for many years in China.

The English-language, “US Service” of official newspaper China Daily, however, is currently carrying a report on the front page of its website. Headlined “Illegal Assembly in Hong Kong Leads to Clashes,” it reports “dozens of tear gas canisters [being] fired,” “scores of protesters” and street closures.

On Monday morning, the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s leading English-language newspaper partially took down the paywall from its website and made Occupy Central coverage free to all readers. It said that one of its stories had become the most read of the year to date. However, the website crashed repeatedly. It is not clear whether that is die to the volume of traffic or outside interference.

Some 80 protesters including a number of pro-democracy lawmakers have been arrested, though many have been subsequently released.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive CY Leung said that the police have acted within the law and with restraint. He also said that a new round of consultations on electoral reform will begin shortly. But pro-democracy movements instead called for him to resign.

Street demonstrations, which according to Hong Kong media, count tens of thousands of people, were initially limited to the Admiralty district, where the government has its headquarters. They caused the closure of the Admiralty MTR subway station. But after police blocked off streets and Civic Square, the protests expanded to Wanchai and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island and to the Mongkok shopping and business area in Kowloon.

As Hong Kong citizens wake up on Monday morning, many face the prospect of school closures and difficult journeys to work.

The activities in Hong Kong are keenly watched in Taiwan, where relations with Beijing have been improving for the past few years, but where such an entente could be jeopardized by events in Hong Kong. Use of tear gas was the lead story in the online English-language editions of both The Taipei Times and The China Post. Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou told Al Jazeera that events in Hong Kong would affect the world’s perception of China.

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