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HK lawmaker Chan suggests selling Mong Kok riot bricks

Albert Chan (Center) is removed from the Legislative Council Chambers for interjecting during Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying 2016 Policy Address in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on January 13, 2016.
Isaac Lawrence | AFP | Getty Images
Albert Chan (Center) is removed from the Legislative Council Chambers for interjecting during Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying 2016 Policy Address in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on January 13, 2016.

Hong Kong should sell the bricks hurled at police during the Mong Kok riots to democracy-loving tourists, like Germany did the Berlin Wall.

That is the – completely serious – suggestion from Hong Kong lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yi, who told the Legislative Council (Legco) on Monday that the site of the city's most violent protests since 2014's Umbrella Movement should be made into a tourist attraction.

"I was in Berlin a couple of times after the wall fell and saw that the Berlin government used the wall as a major tourist attraction," Chan told CNBC.

He likened the bricks thrown by Mong Kok rioters to pieces of the wall that separated East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989, which were sold as souvenirs after the wall came down in 1989.

"The Berlin wall pieces have become a symbol of democracy and liberty, the Mong Kok bricks are definitely a major symbol as well," said Chan, adding that buyers could use the bricks to "condemn political violence, or glorify them as symbol for the struggle of democracy."

People angered by government officials' clearing of illegal street vendors in the working class Mong Kok suburb had pried bricks out of pavements and hurled them at the riot police in a night of violent protest last month.

According to the South China Morning Post, more than 2,000 bricks were dug out of 110 square meters of pavement by protesters, in a melee that injured 130 people, including 90 police officers.

Chan, who represents People Power, a political coalition formed in 2011 of three parties, which currently holds two seats in the Legco, made his recommendations at a Legco's development panel discussion on Hong Kong's tourism figures, which suffered a sharp decline in 2015 as the mainland's slowing economy kept Chinese tourists at home.

Hong Kong, long reliant on mainland tourism, saw a 15.5 percent drop in mainland visitor numbers in December compared to the same period a year earlier, according to official statistics.

Anti-mainlander sentiment in Hong Kong – where Chinese are accused of a range of offences, from buying up household staples in stores and to behaving in an uncouth manner – as well at the Umbrella Movement pro-democracy protests have also been blamed for weighing on tourism.

"I don't think it is in Hong Kong's long-term interest to rely on mainland tourism... it is about time that the government re-plans its overall strategy especially with regards to tourism," Chan told CNBC.

Instead, the unorthodox politician suggested that the government capitalize the Umbrella Movement by selling related artworks and T-shirts, according to the South China Morning Post.

Thousands of people flooded the streets of Hong Kong in late 2014 to protest against proposed changes to Hong Kong's electoral system, resulting in weeks of violent skirmishes between police and protesters.

Hong Kong's commissioner for tourism and the tourism board did not respond to Chan's ideas, the SCMP noted in its report on the panel discussion.

Matthew Wong, assistant professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong, said it was unlikely Hong Kong authorities would be "too enthusiastic about developing tourism based on the protests against them.

But, he added that "developing tourism and merchandise around a social movement is not a bad idea to keep the issues afloat, as long as the resources are in turn used to strengthen the cause."

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