FEATURE-Hong Kong activists turn Lunar New Year fairs into protest bazaars

By Sarah Wu and Yoyo Chow

By Sarah Wu and Yoyo Chow HONG KONG, Jan 22 (Reuters) - The politics of protest was a running theme at Lunar New Year fairs in Hong Kong this week, as stall holders sold t-shirts, tattoo transfers, tote bags, and coasters bearing slogans popularised during months of pro-democracy demonstrations. Often-violent protests, sparked by a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, have persisted in Hong Kong for more than seven months and the long queues at the fairs showed they retain broad popular support. At one market in the prime Causeway Bay shopping district there was a shooting gallery, where visitors could fire foam pellets at cut-out images of Hong Kong's unpopular pro-Beijing leader, Carrie Lam, and China's President Xi Jinping. "I need to vent," said Lu Koo, a 28-year-old hotel employee, said. "Government officials have their heads in the clouds." At another stall, Amelie Li, a 32-year-old human resources specialist, and her mother tossed rings over beer bottles arranged in the shape of a protest slogan. Li’s favourite purchase of the day was a keychain made of concrete that read “Liberate Hong Kong.” "I will carry this every day because we hope this will come true," Li said as she left the market laden with shopping bags. This year, the government banned the selling of dry goods at officially-sanctioned seasonal markets and slashed the number of stalls by one third, citing safety concerns. The measures prompted activists to find new venues across the city to set up protest-themed stalls, with many vendors donating proceeds to organisations supporting the movement. Cheung Chun-kit, who owns the Lung Mun Café popular with protesters, set up a market on the 10th floor of an industrial building on the Kowloon peninsula. "Fai chun" red banners, usually hung in doorways for good luck in the new year, drew the longest queues. These carried protest slogans instead of traditional blessings of health and prosperity. Other items on sale included protest-themed T-shirts, key chains, and small, 3D-printed figurines of "Lady Liberty" -- a white statue that has become a symbol of the protests -- all made in a nearby building by dozens of students. Cheung said he organised the workshops and fair to help students develop new skills and earn some money, as some of them have lost the financial support of their parents, who oppose their protest actions. At the Causeway Bay market, visitors could buy macarons, tote bags, stress balls and coasters stamped with popular slogans such as "Ideas are bulletproof" and "Five demands, not one less." Stock trader Jake Li, 26, sold a card game featuring government and police figures and prominent activists. He worked for three months with two other friends to design the game, which he hopes will help players better understand the movement. Housewife Joey Cheung made mini-notebook keychains holding the lyrics of “Glory to Hong Kong,” one of the unofficial anthems of the movement. Yvonne Cheung, a saleswoman turning 48 this week, bought a cake topper emblazoned with “Hong Kongers, add oil!”, a popular encouragement chant in the city. “It’s my (birthday) wish. We want the Hong Kong government to reply to our demands,” Cheung said. (Editing by Marius Zaharia & Simon Cameron-Moore)