Parts of central Hong Kong yesterday descended into mayhem as police and protesters fought pitched street battles during an unauthorised march staged ahead of China's 70th national day tomorrow.
The city's embattled leader is preparing to make a visit to Beijing for the celebrations.
The police yesterday resorted to a full arsenal of crowd control weapons, including water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets and foam rounds.
The anti-government rally was part of planned global protests, which Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement has dubbed a "global anti-totalitarianism march".
Heeding a call posted on the Internet, solidarity marches took place in more than 40 cities around the world, including in the United States, Japan and Malaysia.
In Australia, more than 1,000 black-clad protesters turned up for a rally in central Sydney, some carrying yellow umbrellas and signs reading "Save Hong Kong".
In Hong Kong, things took a chaotic turn almost as soon as the march got under way. Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds in the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay. But the march continued westwards to the government headquarters, with protesters chanting "five demands, not one less" and "fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong".
As the protesters neared the government headquarters in Admiralty, the police stopped them from advancing further by lining up in formation across main thoroughfares. The protesters tossed Molotov cocktails, bricks and glass bottles at the police, who responded with multiple volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.
The protesters then sought refuge in Harcourt Road, the main thoroughfare running past the government complex, tossing Molotov cocktails, rocks and bricks into the complex. The street battles continued as night fell, with the police pushing protesters back towards Causeway Bay.
One marcher, Mr Tom Chan, who had a surgical mask on, said he had turned up dressed for a normal protest because he "didn't think the police would come down so hard".
"It's supposed to be a peaceful march. If the government had tried to meet the people's demands, or even deal with the underlying social issues, we wouldn't be in this state," he told The Straits Times.
During the chaos, at least one live round was fired as a warning shot, local media reported.
The government late last night condemned the acts of radical demonstrators, saying they have "no regard for law and order, and their actions have seriously undermined the social order".
Earlier in the day, pro-Beijing supporters held their own rally near Victoria Harbour, where they sang the Chinese national anthem and waved the national flag.
Meanwhile, in a surprise announcement, the government said Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who has faced the brunt of protesters' ire, will leave for Beijing today to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.
Mrs Lam had earlier sent out invitations to a flag-raising ceremony and national day reception at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in the city. The reason for the change in plan was not clarified, but the government said Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung would take her place at the ceremony.
The protests in Hong Kong, which were sparked off by a now-suspended extradition Bill, has entered its 17th week and shows little sign of abating, with demonstrators now demanding, among other things, universal suffrage and electoral reforms.