HONG KONG (The Straits Times/ANN) — Entire streets were left shrouded in tear gas yesterday as Hong Kong police fought pitched street battles with protesters, firing numerous gas canisters and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd who had deviated from an approved route.
Demonstrators were meant to gather at Chater Garden in Central but many moved east towards the Causeway Bay shopping district, while some headed west towards Beijing’s Liaison Office. Another group headed towards Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai, which hosts official ceremonies.
The event was intended to call attention to police action last Sunday, when law enforcement officers fired tear gas, foam and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who had marched beyond a designated ending spot in Wan Chai, with a small number moving on to vandalise the exterior of the Liaison Office.
Yesterday, demonstrators built barricades around the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay, prompting it to shut early. In Sai Ying Pun, a residential neighbourhood close to the Liaison Office, police in riot gear and protesters were locked in a stand-off for hours, with many curious residents milling around to catch the action.
As the sun set, police pushed back at protesters, who had built barricades on several roads — forcing shops to close as crowds gathered. Protesters fought back, hurling projectiles like bottles, rocks and umbrellas at officers, or pushing flaming objects — including rubbish bins and a metal cart — at them.
By 11.20 p.m., protesters pushed back towards Sheung Wan had dispersed, over four hours after police started clearance operations.
Urban rail operator MTR Corp suspended some services while about 30 bus services were rerouted. Ferries to Macau from Sheung Wan had also been stopped. In a Facebook post, the police said they were conducting a dispersal operation eastward on Hong Kong Island as some protesters were committing arson.
They appealed to the public to stay calm. Thousands of protesters, many clad in black, had gathered at various locations yesterday afternoon, deviating from the police-approved protest site of Chater Garden. At around 3.30 p.m., crowds began walking away from Chater Garden public park, chanting “black cops, despicable” in Cantonese.
Yesterday’s rally was the eighth straight weekend of protests to oppose a controversial extradition Bill. Participants have five demands: that the Bill be fully scrapped, the label of June 12 protests as a “riot” be removed, allegations of police abuse be investigated, the release of protesters who were arrested, and for universal suffrage to be implemented by next year.
“We’re here for the same five requests and until the government responds to us, we’ll keep coming,” said Ki Lo, 26, who marched down Hennessy Road with a friend. “We also need to send a message that the way the police have been behaving is not acceptable.”
She said she was worried Hong Kong will see a day where people no longer have freedom of speech and the right to protest freely.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, the Central government’s authority of the Special Autonomous Region, will hold a briefing today. Yesterday’s planned protest on the city’s main island came a day after clashes between protesters and police in the northern town of Yuen Long.
Organisers said 288,000 people turned up to show their opposition to the June 21 assault by more than 100 white-shirted men who were armed with sticks and metal bars and were said to be linked to triads.
They attacked people who had been returning from an anti-extradition protest on Hong Kong Island as well as commuters at an MTR station. At least 45 people were hurt. Meanwhile, the organiser of last Saturday’s protest in Yuen Long was arrested for allegedly organising an illegal assembly, police said.
Max Chung, whose application to hold a rally in Yuen Long was rejected by police, was taken away after speaking at a forum in Victoria Park. The Hong Kong government condemned protesters who took part in the Yuen Long violence, promising serious follow-up action.
Hong Kong is facing its worst crisis in recent history, with millions having taken to the streets to protest against the proposed Bill that would allow fugitives to be extradited to jurisdictions including mainland China. While Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the Bill has been suspended, protests have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms.
By Elizabeth Law