HONG KONG - Anti-extradition protesters faced off with police on Sunday night (July 7) in Kowloon, hours after a march ended peacefully.
Thousands of protesters set off from Salisbury Garden on Sunday afternoon and marched through the busy Tsim Sha Tsui area towards West Kowloon station in an attempt to take their message directly to visitors from mainland China.
The protesters were orderly and the mood was calm. Unlike previous demonstrations, where the dissatisfaction had been aimed at the Hong Kong government, Sunday's protest march set its sights on the mainland and mainland Chinese visitors.
But late Sunday night, scores of police in riot gear confronted several hundred protesters gathered on Nathan Road in Mong Kok, to the north of Tsim Sha Tsui.
The stand-off began at about 10.20pm after most of the protesters had dispersed from Tsim Sha Tsui, but a group of young protesters continued moving up Nathan Road until they encountered the police.
Police had used loudhailers to ask the group of 300 protesters to leave, but the mostly young, masked protesters had resisted.
The protesters, who tried to protect themselves with umbrellas, were eventually pushed back. Multiple protesters were reportedly detained after the fracas.
Three Hong Kong lawmakers arrived at the scene later to try to reason with the police.
But at around 12.25am, police began to march forward in an apparent effort to clear people off the streets.
Earlier, the organisers of the afternoon march said 230,000 people took part, while the police said there were 56,000 people at the peak of the protest.
The march began at Salisbury Garden at about 3.40pm, with protesters marching through Tsim Sha Tsui - Hong Kong's busy tourist district - towards the West Kowloon station, where high-speed trains from the mainland stop.
Police had put West Kowloon station on lockdown, with water-filled barriers about 2m high set up around it.
Outside the station, organisers unfurled a banner with their demands as more protesters arrived. The demands are: fully scrap the extradition Bill, remove the label of June 12 protests as a “riot”, investigate allegations of police abuse, release protesters who were arrested, and for universal suffrage to be rolled out by next year.
Protesters also chanted, “there are no violent people, only a tyranny”, as well as called for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down.
Pro-democracy activist Ventus Lau, who had applied for the permit for Sunday’s protest march, told The Straits Times that he does not expect the government to answer protesters’ demands.
“What we want to do is show mainland visitors that protests in Hong Kong are peaceful and graceful,” he said.
Mr Lau, one of the protest organisers, said there were no plans to enter West Kowloon station. “It is hoped that Hong Kong people can spread how Hong Kong people can march peacefully and bring the protest information back to the mainland to mainland visitors,” he told Reuters.
Organisers of the march told the protesters to disperse after they reached West Kowloon station.
PUSH TO BE HEARD
Among those who turned up for the protest march on Sunday afternoon were young people and families, despite the rain and gloomy weather. People gave out bottles of water as well as flyers with tips on maintaining mental wellness to the protesters.
Engineer Yang Man Kit, 32, hobbled in with a bandaged knee and a crutch. “I had surgery on my ACL two weeks ago. But I feel it’s important to come and show my support,” he told ST. ACL stands for anterior cruciate ligament, a key ligament that helps stabilise the knee joint.
Another protester, contractor Chan Fui Ming, 29, who attended the march with friends, said: “Our spirits are a bit low because the government has not been responding to our requests, but I think it’s important to come out and show our support.”
Demonstrators have said that they wanted to show mainland China and its people how dissatisfied they are with the Bill, and have chosen to end the march at the West Kowloon station where mainland tourists board trains to return home.
The Hong Kong protests have received little coverage in mainland China, where censors blocked most news related to the demonstrations. In its limited coverage, mainland media portrayed the Hong Kong protests as a primarily violent, foreign-funded plot to destabilise the motherland.
Mr Wang Chen, 29, a PhD student from Beijing studying at Hong Kong Baptist University, said watching the protest unfold drove home the point that such movements fragment society.
“While it’s normal to have political demands of the government, and I can understand why Hong Kongers are acting like this, but at the same time, it is also making their society very divided,” he told ST.
A Chinese visitor from Shenzhen, who gave his name as Mr Li, told Hong Kong's TVB news channel that the protest march did not mean much to him, as he was just a tourist.
Another visitor, a Ms Han from the Chinese province of Fujian, told the channel: “I can empathise (with the protesters). After all, everyone has different thinking or different political viewpoint.”
Earlier, some travel agencies said that they would keep tour groups away from the Tsim Sha Tsui area - popular with mainland tourists - on Sunday afternoon, local radio station RTHK reported, quoting the Tourism Association.
Although organisers had called for the protests to be “peaceful, rational and graceful”, there were concerns that things could get ugly.
PROTEST TURNED UGLY
On July 1, young protesters stormed the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) complex, breaking display screens and spraying graffiti on the walls.
The city has seen demonstrations over the Bill since June 6, when the city's lawyers marched in a silent protest. Mass demonstrations began on June 9, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to express their unhappiness.
The Bill, mooted in February, was intended to allow Hong Kong to send suspects to jurisdictions it does not have extradition agreements with, including mainland China. But those opposing the Bill are concerned that the opaque Chinese legal system could mean people in Hong Kong could be targeted under the Bill without receiving a fair trial or human rights protection.
In a huge climbdown, the Hong Kong government suspended the Bill on June 15, but protesters want it to be dumped entirely.
On Saturday, protesters also scuffled with police at a park in Hong Kong's Tuen Mun area, near the border with mainland China, targeting so-called “dancing aunties”, or “damas” from the mainland, who blast music through loudspeakers in parks and dance provocatively to solicit cash donations.
Nearly 2,000 people had rallied at the park, and protesters said police used pepper spray briefly to control the crowd.
On Sunday morning, Hong Kong police issued a public appeal urging protesters to express their views in a peaceful and rational manner.
“Members of the public should comply with the laws of Hong Kong and maintain social order when expressing their views,” the police said in a statement.
“Should there be any confrontation, they should protect their own safety, maintain a safe distance from the violent protesters or leave the scene immediately so as to give police enough space to deal with any violent and unlawful acts,” the statement added.
Sunday's march was approved with several conditions, with police saying that any item that can be used as a weapon was not to be brought along, among other things.
RTHK reported earlier on Sunday that more than 1,000 police officers would be on standby.
The transport department also closed some roads temporarily, and public transport services were diverted.
Meanwhile, all entrances to West Kowloon station were closed on Sunday, except for a designated entrance and exit for passengers. In addition, only people with valid tickets and travel documents were allowed to enter the station, according to Hong Kong's mass transit railway operator MTR Corporation. Vehicular access to the station was also banned.