The police fired rubber bullets and tear gas shells to disperse thousands of demonstrators protesting against a proposed extradition law yesterday, but Hong Kong's leader has promised to press ahead with the legislation despite its reading being delayed.
Calling the protest "an organised riot", Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam lashed out at the demonstrators in a strongly worded televised address last evening, saying: "This is not an act that shows love for Hong Kong... Some people resorted to dangerous, or even potentially fatal acts."
Tension has been simmering over the Bill, which will allow extraditions to mainland China, and the protest descended into violence yesterday when protesters threatened to storm the city legislature where the proposed law was to be read.
The reading of the Bill was delayed, and a government spokesman said last night that 72 people were injured in the protest, with two men in serious condition.
"Intense confrontation is absolutely not the solution," said Mrs Lam in her address. Before the worst of the violence, she repeatedly stood by the introduction of the Bill in an interview yesterday and said the time was right for it to be debated.
The protesters were equally determined to have their way. Many of them, dressed in black and wearing goggles, face masks and helmets, charged towards the Legislative Council (LegCo) building at about 3.30pm, ignoring police warnings.
Shielding themselves with umbrellas and cling wrap on their arms to guard against the sting of the sprays, they pushed through the metal barricades, forcing the police to retreat.
The protesters threw water bottles, bricks and umbrellas at the riot police and chanted slogans, vowing to stay put until the government withdrew the legislation.
Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung said: "We had no choice but to use weapons to stop these protesters from barging through our defence lines." He added that the "protesters would have used metal bars to stab our colleagues".
The Chinese government yesterday reiterated its firm support for the extradition law, while urging the United States to speak and act with caution regarding Hong Kong.
In a similar vein, Mrs Lam said in her address that while there are different views on the extradition Bill, issues involving China and Hong Kong have been used by some people to cause conflict.
Tens of thousands of protesters began surrounding the LegCo complex from 8am in a move to cut off lawmakers' access to the building. By 11am, the authorities postponed the reading of the Bill - something Labour Party politician Fernando Cheung called "a miracle".
Even after they were dispersed, the protesters moved to other streets and continued to have standoffs with the authorities. At around 11pm, people were spotted gathering at new spots - the junction outside AIA Tower in Central and the junction of Hennessy Road and Queen's Road East towards Wan Chai.
Mooted in February, the proposed law has been criticised by those who argue that it could be used for political persecution and that fugitives might not receive a fair trial on the mainland. The government says it has added human rights safeguards to the Bill.
Organisers said a million people showed up to oppose the Bill on Sunday, in the biggest protest in the territory since the handover in 1997. This was followed by yesterday's violence. The stock markets were also spooked, with the Hang Seng Index falling 1.7 per cent.