HONG KONG - Hong Kong anti-extradition, pro-democracy protesters kept up the pressure on authorities on Saturday (Aug 10) with a rally and a march held, despite police denying permits to them, as protests entered the 10th straight weekend.
Police fired a dozen round of tear gas in Tai Wai this evening, further pushing back protesters, and eventually dispersing them. The protesters had earlier occupied a roundabout.
The tear gas however filled a train station there, bringing train passengers to tears.
More than 10 police vehicles were deployed in the operation.
At Nathan Road in the shopping area of Tsim Sha Tsui, police also fired tear gas as protesters gathered, and some of them setting up barriers outside the police station.
The police's action sent nearby tourists running with welling tears, while some shoppers took pictures of riot police.
Hong Kong police have issued statement condemning what they described as "violent acts" by the protesters.
They said the protesters have set up barricades at a roundabout in Tai Wai, disrupting traffic while another group placed the public in danger for allegedly starting fires outside the Tsim Sha Tsui police station.
PROTESTERS TO BLOCK TUNNELS LINKING KOWLOON, HONG KONG ISLAND
Other protesters gathered in the West Kowloon Cultural District, with some saying their next target is the Western Harbour Tunnel - a major link between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.
At the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, which also links Kowloon with Hong Kong Island, some protesters blocked the southbound side of the tunnel, disrupting traffic.
Since early June, Hong Kong has been mired in its worst political crisis since the handover from Britain in 1997 since protesters took to the streets en masse against a proposed extradition law that would allow for fugitives to be transferred to several jurisdictions, including mainland China. While the Bill has since been indefinitely suspended, protests have evolved to calling for political reform, and outings have resulted in increasingly violent clashes with the police.
On Saturday mid-afternoon, hundreds of protesters flooded streets in Tai Po, a residential area in the New Territories, one of the areas where police and protesters had clashed in the past 10 days.
As marchers got close to the end of Tai Wo Road, the main thoroughfare in the area, they were met by a cordon of officers decked out in riot gear, who repeatedly warned protesters to disperse from the "unauthorised assembly".
By late afternoon on the adjacent Nam Wan Road, protesters started building barricades with metal fences and plastic barriers as others held up umbrellas to block the view. But after about an hour, most protesters dispersed, with many heading towards the metro station for Wong Tai Sin, another residential district about 30 minutes away where another gathering had been planned.
At the nearby "Lennon Tunnel", an underpass covered in post-its and art featuring protest messages, scores of passersby on their way to the protest left messages of support, others taking pictures of the display with their phones.
"We need to keep coming out to make our voices heard, because it's been so many weeks and still the government hasn't responded to us. At least the police are keeping calm so far," said engineer Isaac Leung, 30, who was at Tai Po.
During a city-wide strike on Monday, police clashed with protesters, firing 800 rounds of tear gas, almost as much as the 1,000 that had been fired between June 9 and Aug 4.
"I think the young people are frustrated and fighting back because the police have been very unfair. That's why the slogan these days is 'We burn you burn with us'," said 54-year-old Maggie Chan.
"If the PLA (China's People's Liberation Army) gets called in that's fine by us, it's the tycoons and businesses that will suffer, not the ordinary folk who have been getting by on very little," she added.
Others like construction worker Nathan Chan said he saw no reason the protests have not been approved since it was meant to be a peaceful march.
PROTEST ORGANISERS LOSE APPEAL AGAINST BAN FOR SUNDAY MARCH
Organisers had planned a series of rallies across Hong Kong for the weekend, but in a bit to contain street violence police had refused permission for marches in Tai Po, Wong Tai Sin, Sham Shui Po and North Point.
The organisers of the Hong Kong Island East march on Sunday also lost their appeal on Saturday against the police's letter of objection. They had planned to march from Victoria Park to Java Road Playground in North Point, but police approved only the rally at Victoria Park.
Police said the four neighbourhoods had seen clashes between officers and protesters in earlier marches - which led to officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets - denying organisers’ assertions that the rejections were due to political reasons.
The weekend's proposed rally routes would also pass high-risk locations such as police stations and government buildings that “could easily become targets for radical protesters to attack”, senior police superintendent Jim Ng said at a press conference on Friday (Aug 9).
But the lack of police approvals does not mean the mass gatherings would not take place. Over a hundred protesters gathered on Friday (Aug 9) at Wong Tai Sin for a “religious ceremony” to mark the Hungry Ghost Festival and it led to clashes with the police after midnight. Religious gatherings do not require police permission.
Mr Roy Chan, one of the Tai Po march organisers, told the Hong Kong Free Press that the police ban meant “our freedom to protest and demonstrate has been completely destroyed”.
While the march would be cancelled, he called on Tai Po residents to “do what they should do”.
Demonstrations that were approved for the weekend include those at Victoria Park and Edinburgh Park. The South China Morning Post said police intended to mobilise more than 3,000 officers, mainly anti-riot squads, at the Victoria Park rally.
At Edinburgh Place, the rally was billed as a family event to “guard our children’s future,” drew several hundred families armed with balloons and strollers who took to the streets to show their support for pro-democracy protesters.
The colourful and calm atmosphere at the rally was a far cry from the increasingly violent confrontations that have marked recent demonstrations by activists calling for greater freedoms in the city.
A leaflet featuring an alternative alphabet was circulated, offering “demonstration” for the letter D, “angry” for A and “protest” for P.
Earlier Saturday, older people staged a “silver hair” rally, delivering letters to police headquarters and the office of chief executive Carrie Lam in support of the protests. Footage from broadcaster TVB showed police supporters -- mostly dressed in light blue -- delivering fruit baskets and cards to officers, as groups posed for pictures with officers while holding mini Chinese flags.
SILENT PROTEST AT AIPRORT
At Hong Kong International Airport, demonstrators held a silent protest, covering their eyes or mouths with pieces of black cloth. They wanted to send out the message that Hongkongers are being silenced and suppressed by the authorities.
Billed as a three-day event, organisers said that it would go on till Sunday and is meant to win support from arriving passengers for the protesters’ anti-government cause.
Police presence remained light at the airport on Saturday, although additional security measures were taken by authorities at the departure hall.
CHINA DEMANDS CATHAY PACIFIC SUSPEND STAFF WHO TOOK PART IN PROTESTS
Mrs Lam had on Friday said the economy was being undermined by the protests, which she claims impacted the economy worse than the SARS outbreak in 2003. Countries like the US and Australia have issued travel warnings to the city.
In a phone call, Britain's foreign minister called on Mrs Lam to set up an independent committee to investigate the recent protests.
"The Foreign Secretary emphasised the need to find a way forward through meaningful political dialogue, and a fully independent investigation into recent events as a way to build trust," said a statement released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
China, meanwhile, demanded that the city’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways suspend staff involved in the demonstrations and not allow any staff who have taken part in protests to fly into China. One of its pilots was arrested last week but has been granted bail to continue working.
Huarong International, the investment arm in Hong Kong of China Huarong Asset Management, has instructed staff not to fly Cathay Pacific if there are other options, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters and confirmed by a source at the company.
Mrs Lam’s warning about the economy and the China’s targeting of a key Hong Kong business mark a toughening stance by authorities. Young people have been at the forefront of the protests, worried about the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong by China but also concerned with issues such as the wealth disparities in the financial centre.