Hong Kong police resorted to using water cannon for the first time yesterday as violent clashes broke out with anti-government protesters on the streets of Tsuen Wan, which later spread to other districts.
At one point during the night, at least three police officers drew their service revolvers on a group of protesters who had attacked them, resulting in a stand-off at a nearby building. One officer fired a gunshot as a warning, the first time a live round has been discharged during protests.
Tensions peaked early in the evening, more than two hours after an approved march in light rain from Kwai Chung Sports Ground to Tsuen Wan Park.
Traffic was paralysed after hundreds of black-clad protesters put up barricades made of dismantled roadside fences, bamboo poles, water-filled barriers, traffic cones and dustbins.
Police first used tear gas and fired foam bullets after protesters began throwing bricks and petrol bombs at them.
The water-cannon vehicles later slowly cruised down the streets and were used to clear the makeshift barricades after protesters retreated. Most protesters had left the area by about 7.30pm although violence was reported elsewhere including in Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin and Tsim Sha Tsui.
Some protesters blocked traffic in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, and used sticks and rods to smash lights, security cameras and toll booth windows at the Hung Hom entrance.
Yesterday afternoon, thousands turned up for the 12th straight weekend of protests in the city, chanting slogans, including "hak gehng" (black cops in Cantonese, a reference to the police being in cahoots with the triads), "Hong Kong yahn, gar yau" (people of Hong Kong, keep it up), and "liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times".
One protester, undergraduate Christy Lee, 18, dismissed the plea for calm and dialogue made by Chief Executive Carrie Lam a day earlier.
"If she wants to communicate with us, all she has to do is come and join us, listen to our slogans and she will know what demands we have. Our five demands are very clear, so there's no need for dialogue," she told The Straits Times.
Mrs Lam, in a Facebook post on Saturday, had pleaded: "After more than two months of escalated protests, we are all tired, can we just sit and talk?"
The protesters' five key demands include an independent inquiry into police brutality, a full withdrawal of an extradition Bill that has been suspended by the government, and greater democracy.
Three train stations were shut yesterday, to the ire of some residents. This came after train operator MTR Corporation closed four stations on Saturday in an unprecedented move.
Separately, about a hundred people gathered in Central yesterday in support of the families of police officers, who have come under huge pressure as protesters grow increasingly hostile against the force, RTHK reported. The participants also called for police restraint during operations to clear protesters.
The authorities said 29 people, aged between 17 and 52, were arrested for offences including possession of offensive weapons and assault of police officers, after clashes on Saturday night in Kwun Tong.
Local media reported that two more people have been charged with rioting over their alleged links to the July 21 attacks at Yuen Long MTR station, bringing the total number so far to four. Their cases will be mentioned in a Fanling court today.