HONG KONG • China yesterday accused the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights of emboldening "radical violence" in Hong Kong by suggesting that the city's leader conduct an investigation into reports of excessive use of force by the police.
The back and forth came as a week of relative calm was shattered after police and pro-democracy protesters mounting a fresh round of marches clashed again, with officers firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.
On Saturday, the UN commissioner, Ms Michelle Bachelet, wrote in an opinion piece in the South China Morning Post that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's government must prioritise "meaningful, inclusive" dialogue to resolve the crisis.
"It is now time to listen directly to people from all walks of life, to work together with sincere resolve to address their concerns and grievances. Young people, especially, need to be heard," she wrote. She urged Mrs Lam to hold an "independent and impartial judge-led investigation" into police conduct during protests.
China's UN mission in Geneva yesterday slammed the "erroneous" article, saying that it interferes in the internal affairs of China and exerts pressure on the city's government and police, which "will only embolden the rioters to conduct more severe radical violence".
Ms Bachelet made "inappropriate comments" on the situation in Hong Kong, and the Chinese side had lodged a strong protest in response, added the mission.
The "continuous radical violent activities" in Hong Kong are "absolutely not about human rights or democracy", it said in a scathing attack on protesters.
"Instead of expressing grievances, they are conducting 'political intimidation' and 'political coercion'," said the mission.
"In fact, they seek to create chaos in the Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region), paralyse the Hong Kong SAR government and seize the administrative power of the Hong Kong SAR with the aim of rendering the 'one country, two systems' principle defunct."
Hong Kong's protests - with repeated violent clashes between police and protesters - were fuelled by years of seething anger over China's perceived erosion of liberties in the semi-autonomous city.
Beijing denies stamping out Hong Kong's liberties and has portrayed the protests as a foreign-backed "colour revolution" aimed at destabilising China.
Protesters have in the past few months disrupted traffic, smashed public facilities and pro-China shops, and hurled petrol bombs in pitched battles with riot police, who have responded with volleys of tear gas and water cannon.
The occupation of several universities by protesters last month, after fiery clashes with police, capped one of the most violent chapters in the turmoil, which has contributed to the city's first recession in a decade.
After a rare lull in violence, protesters mounted three marches yesterday as they sought to keep up the pressure on Mrs Lam after the recent win by the pro-democracy camp in district council elections and the gaining of US support for their cause.
In the largest of the rallies, a key thoroughfare along the waterfront on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour was packed with demonstrators, from masked protesters in all-black outfits to families and the elderly.
It was cut short after riot police fired tear gas and arrested a few people. A police statement said minimum force was deployed after "hundreds of rioters hurled smoke bombs" and bricks.
Mrs Lam has said that she will accelerate dialogue, but has yet to yield any ground.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG