Emotions ran high in Victoria Park yesterday as speakers at City Forum debated whether an independence movement is on the rise in Hong Kong.
Anger was particularly directed at two people who claimed Beijing was interfering in Hong Kong affairs - activist Chan Chi-chun and political analyst Johnny Lau Yui-siu.
One man was seen spitting in the direction of Chan while another hurled a water bottle at Lau. The strong feelings were rife among others in the audience, with scuffling and insults traded.
Members of a group called Loving Hong Kong Power, saying they are totally opposed to any move toward independence, tried to rush onto the stage but were stopped by security guards.
The issue was sparked by a warning against a rise in pro-independence feeling from former Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office deputy director Chen Zuo'er.
Lau said the warning is unnecessary as most people understand Hong Kong cannot survive if it tries to go it alone. But he said Beijing, rather than creating an independence bogeyman, should focus on improving its connection with the public.
Chan, who recently organized a march to the central government liaison office, rebuffed suggestions he has been calling for independence, saying his protest was only to decry excessive intervention in Hong Kong affairs, especially in the chief executive election and educational issues.
Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference member Lew Mon-hung said while a person can criticize the government over its policies, he or she cannot refuse to recognize the country.
"Similarly, while one can be dissatisfied with the Communist Party, he or she cannot deny being a Chinese," he added.