HONG KONG -- The Chinese military has swapped its garrison in Hong Kong with fresh troops, a move it claims is part of a regular rotation but has alarmed the city's demonstrators who saw it as a sign that Beijing's stepping up its intimidation tactics.
China's state-run Xinhua News Agency published photos Thursday of military trucks and tanks driving into Hong Kong from Shenzhen, as well as of naval troops arriving at a wharf in the semi-autonomous city that has been wracked by protests for more than 80 days.
State broadcaster China Central Television also aired footage of the troops coming into the city, including military planes arriving.
This comes on the heels of a Tuesday statement by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam that she will consider all legal options to "stop violence and chaos" -- a reference to an emergency ordinance that would give her sweeping powers. As demonstrators plan another huge protest on Saturday, the arrival of new troops could further rachet up tensions in the besieged city.
"The replacement of the troops is part of a planned and routine rotation. It falls at a similar timing as replacements in the past," Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Ren Guoqiang said Thursday.
Beijing has also assembled paramilitary police, who are responsible for maintaining public order on the mainland, on the border in Shenzhen.
Online forums are abuzz with speculation that Beijing is trying to intimidate protesters, with many questioning why no troops appear to be rotating out of Hong Kong.
Created under British colonial rule, the Emergency Regulations Ordinance allows the city's chief executive to impose wide restrictions on publications, communications, trade, production and the movement of people.
Protesters strongly oppose the idea, arguing that it will impinge on their constitutional right to assembly and is a de facto attempt at martial law. The pro-Beijing faction has also voiced concerns over its potential effect on the Hong Kong economy.
Hong Kong is nowhere near needing the emergency ordinance, said Bernard Chan, the executive council convenor and Lam's top adviser, on Wednesday. But the next day, police denied protesters permission to hold a march on Saturday, signaling that it is tightening its hold on the situation.
Demonstrators are demanding that the Hong Kong government scrap a controversial bill allowing extraditions to the mainland, as well as hold democratic elections for the city's leadership. Several labor unions and student groups are calling for a strike starting on Monday.