HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the upmarket Causeway Bay shopping district on Sunday (Sept 8) after demonstrators rallied at the United States Consulate, calling for help in bringing democracy to the Chinese-ruled city.
Police moved on protesters from the Central business district who dispersed to nearby Admiralty, the bar district of Wan Chai and on to Causeway Bay in a now familiar pattern of cat-and-mouse clashes over three months of unrest.
Activists set up barricades, smashed windows, started street fires and vandalised the MTR metro station in Central, the smartest district of the former British colony.
Among the graffiti on the entrance walls were calls to "Liberate HK".
Central district, home to banks, jewellery shops and top-brand shopping arcades, was awash in graffiti, broken glass and bricks torn up from pathways.
Protesters set fires from cardboard boxes, building barricades with metal fencing.
“We can’t leave because there are riot police,” said protesters Oscar, 20, in Causeway Bay. “They fired tear gas from the station. We are heading to North Point.”
North Point is east of Causeway Bay.
The vandalism started in the evening. Police have responded to violence over 14 weeks with water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas. Several arrests were made.
MTR stations have been attacked recently because of televised scenes of police beating protesters on a train on Aug 31 as they cowered on the floor. Protesters are demanding the MTR hand over CCTV footage of the beatings.
Pockets of protest broke out in Kowloon over the harbour from the main island of Hong Kong on Sunday night, including in Prince Edward, close to Mong Kok.
Protesters had earlier staged a peaceful rally in Central, singing the US national anthem The Star-Spangled Banner and calling on US President Donald Trump to "liberate" the Chinese-ruled city, Reuters reported.
Police stood by as protesters, under a sea of umbrellas against the sub-tropical sun, waved the US flag and placards demanding democracy.
"Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong," they shouted before handing over petitions at the US Consulate. "Resist Beijing, liberate Hong Kong."
As evening fell, the demonstration became violent, following the familiar pattern of barricades, window smashing and street fires.
The unrest came as Joshua Wong, one of the leaders of the pro-democracy "Umbrella" movement five years ago, was re-arrested at the airport on Sunday on return from Germany and the US for breaching bail conditions, Reuters quoted him as saying in a statement.
He had been charged with inciting and participating in an unauthorised assembly outside police headquarters on June 21 and released on bail.
"Preliminary legal advice suggested that the court had acknowledged and approved my trips to Germany and the US when it granted bail on Aug. 30," Wong said in the statement. "Therefore, it is believed that there are some mistakes (that) have been made on the bail certificate."
He said he thought he would be freed on Monday.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper last Saturday urged China to exercise restraint in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Mr Esper made his call in Paris as police in Hong Kong prevented protesters from blocking access to the airport but fired tear gas for a second night running in the densely populated district of Mong Kok.
Last month, Mr Trump suggested China should "humanely" settle the problem in Hong Kong before a trade deal is reached with Washington. Earlier, the President called the protests "riots" that were a matter for China to deal with.
"With the US locked in a trade war with China at this point in time, it's a good opportunity for us to show (the US) how the pro-China groups are also violating human rights in Hong Kong and allowing police brutality," said Cherry, 26, who works in the financial industry, as protesters marched towards the US Consulate.
"We want the US administration to help protect human rights in Hong Kong," Reuters quoted her as saying.
Hong Kong returned to China under a "one country, two systems" formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland. Many Hong Kong residents fear Beijing is eroding that autonomy.
China denies the accusation of meddling and says Hong Kong is an internal affair. It has denounced the protests, accusing the US and Britain of fomenting unrest, and warned of the damage to the economy.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced concessions this week aimed at ending the protests, including formally scrapping a hugely unpopular extradition Bill, which ignited the unrest in June. Many protesters said it was too little, too late.
The Bill would have allowed the extradition of people to mainland China to stand trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party. Hong Kong has an independent judiciary dating back to British rule.
But the demonstrations have long since broadened into calls for democracy.
US legislation addressing China's actions in Hong Kong will be among the top priorities pushed by Senate Democrats when Congress returns to work after a recess next week, their leader, Senator Chuck Schumer, said last Thursday.
Mr Schumer urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican who sets the floor agenda, to bring up a bipartisan Bill that would require an annual justification of the special treatment afforded by Washington to Hong Kong, including special trade and business privileges, under the US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.
The legislation, called the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, would also mandate that officials in China and Hong Kong who have undermined the city's autonomy are vulnerable to sanctions.
Protesters, in their petition, urged that it be passed in full.
Mr Trump alternates between praising Chinese President Xi Jinping as a great leader and casting him as an enemy, while excoriating China for taking advantage of US businesses.
Beijing announced that top officials would head to Washington in early October to hold talks aimed at ending the tit-for-tat trade war, now in its second year, which has roiled markets and hammered global growth.