HONG KONG - Most protesters have departed the sites of rallies at malls in Hong Kong’s Kowloon and New Territories districts on Sunday (Sept 22), after an afternoon that saw some people vandalise a train station before clashing with riot police in Sha Tin.
A small group reassembled outside the Mong Kok Police Station, the site of multiple standoffs between police and protesters in recent weeks, where they trained laser pointers at officers standing guard, while chanting anti-police slurs. Some started a large trash fire on the road which was quickly put out by firefighters.
Passing motorists have sounded their horns in solidarity, some shouting "ga yau", or "come in" in Cantonese. Officers responded to protesters with pepper spray and at least two beanbag rounds, while nearby metro stations Mong Kok and Prince Edward, have been shut because of the gathering.
Riot police earlier fired multiple rounds of tear gas in Sha Tin, in New Territories, on Sunday afternoon to disperse radical protesters.
The protesters had set fire to barricades they built on the road outside New Town Plaza mall, which police said was endangering the safety of the public and affecting traffic in the area.
Protesters responded to the tear gas by throwing bricks and a petrol bomb at the police, Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK reported.
The protesters had taken to the streets following a protest inside New Town Plaza mall earlier in the day.
They set fire to barricades made of metal railings and other objects on Yuen Wo Road, TV footage from Apple Daily showed. Riot police then charged at the protesters to disperse them.
Police then hoisted a black flag to warn of the use of tear gas. A statement released by the police also warned all protestors to stop illegal acts and leave immediately.
The New Town Plaza shopping centre in Sha Tin was earlier vandalised, with protesters spraying water as well as pouring oil and liquid soap onto the floor of the mall, according to TVB footage. A camera from the broadcaster, Hong Kong's largest, had its lens sprayed with black paint during a live broadcast.
Two subway stations were closed after facilities within the premises were vandalised.
Services on Tsing Yi MTR station on the Tung Chung Line were suspended and passengers were asked to leave the station immediately. Earlier, protesters had sprayed an unspecified liquid at the entrances. Riot police were seen inside the station, according to footage from Apple Daily.
Sha Tin MTR station in the New Territories was also shut, after facilities such as ticketing machines, entrance barriers and CCTV cameras there were vandalised.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of people, young and old, gathered in New Town Plaza to protest after the night of clashes between police and radical demonstrators.
The mostly black-clad protesters chanted slogans, including “Hong Kong people, keep it up”, “Fight for freedom”, and “Liberate Hong Kong”. They also sang the new Hong Kong “anthem”, Glory To Hong Kong.
Families were making origami paper birds with slogans and pinning them on frames. One slogan written on the birds and common throughout the protests is “Five demands, not one less”.
Protesters also targeted shops and businesses from mainland China in the mall, RTHK reported. These shops, including Chinese tech giant Huawei and a mainland tea shop chain, quickly pulled down their shutters.
The new tactic from demonstrators showed a simmering anger toward the city’s business elites, a relatively small group of tycoons and cronies who have accumulated enormous wealth and political clout, often through cosy relationships with the mainland.
While the contentious extradition Bill that sparked the ongoing political crisis was withdrawn earlier this month, Sunday’s demonstrations again illustrated that the deep unhappiness within the city goes far beyond a single piece of legislation and will not be easily – or quickly – resolved.
“We have to try to paralyse it (the mall), then the government will have a loss of revenue and they will listen to us.” said Kenneth, 24, an actuary, who gathered with hundreds of others at the New Town Plaza shopping mall in the Sha Tin district.
Protesters there targeted Chinese linked businesses like Maxim’s Jade Garden restaurant, flooding the automated reservation system with requests and taping together the receipts into an ad hoc protest banner.
Maxim’s Caterers Limited, which operates the restaurant, is a major food and beverage conglomerate that operates numerous bakeries and restaurants across Hong Kong, notably the Seattle-based coffee chain Starbucks. The company has recently become a target of protesters.
Their anger stems from Ms Annie Wu, the daughter of the company founder and a staunch supporter of Beijing, who spoke at the United Nations earlier this month in defence of the Hong Kong government.
Her support of the government and police has made her a darling of Chinese-state media.
Tiffany, 25, a kindergarten teacher who took part in Sunday’s demonstration, said Ms Wu was “bending all of the reasons why we come out to the streets. She only sees what the protesters destroy, but she doesn’t see the reasons why.”
Ms Wu spoke at the UN along with Ms Pansy Ho, a billionaire gambling heiress who said she “hijacked the well-intended Bill and used it to spread fear among Hong Kongers", prompting ridicule from protesters who said that Ms Ho, whose worth Forbes pegs at US$4.3 billion (S$5.92 billion), was grossly disconnected from the general population.
At V Walk, another shopping mall in the Sham Shui Po area of Kowloon, dozens of protesters marched past stores chanting “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time".
The group quickly laid siege to a Best Mart 360 outlet, a convenience store chain whose owner has deep ties to the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian, forcing the shop to shutter and sending protesters into a victorious roar before they quickly moved along.
“We have to fight in different ways. We have used a lot of methods already, occupying shopping malls is a new one,” said one female protester in her thirties who wore a black mask and said she was alerted to the demonstration after seeing posts on Instagram earlier in the day.
A group of protesters trampled on a Chinese national flag - which protesters had taken from outside the nearby Sha Tin Town Hall - to the cheers and applause of other demonstrators and bystanders at the mall, according to footage from Apple Daily.
The protesters then smeared paint on the flag, also known as the "five-starred red flag", and threw it into the Shing Mun River near the mall.
The protests - in its 16th weekend - escalated in June over a Bill, now withdrawn, that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.
The four other demands are: an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality, retraction of the word “riot” to describe rallies, release of all detained demonstrators, and the right for Hong Kong people to choose their own leaders.
Earlier in the day, Hong Kong riot police took up position at the main rail station serving the airport on Sunday to prevent a new anti-government protest targeting air travel after a night of widespread violent street clashes in the Chinese-ruled territory.
Anti-government protesters have targeted the airport before, occupying the arrivals hall, blocking approach roads and setting street fires in the nearby town of Tung Chung.
The Airport Express train, which takes passengers under the harbour and across a series of bridges to the airport, built on reclaimed land around an outlying island, will allow passengers to board only in downtown Hong Kong on Sunday, not on the Kowloon peninsula, the Airport Authority said.
The in-town check-in at Kowloon Station has also been suspended for the whole day.
Only people holding tickets would be allowed to enter the airport terminal, it said.
"There are calls online for using fake boarding passes, fake air tickets or fake flight booking information to enter the terminal buildings," the Airport Authority said in a statement. "The Airport Authority reminds that such behaviour could amount to forgery or using false instrument."
One man, a 73-year-old retiree from Canada travelling to Hong Kong, said he had no problem with the protests if they were “legal and peaceful”.
“They are just trying to voice their demands. As a civilised resident I think these demands are legitimate,” the man, who asked to be identified only as Chow, told Reuters.
The violence has hit pockets of Hong Kong at different times over more than three months, allowing life to go on as normal for the vast majority most of the time.
But pictures of petrol bombs and street clashes broadcast worldwide present a huge headache for Beijing just days ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on Oct 1.
The Hong Kong government has already called off a big fireworks display to mark the day in case of further clashes.
China, which has a People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong, has said it has faith in Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to solve the crisis.
Police fired tear gas to disperse pro-democracy protesters who threw petrol bombs in two new towns on Saturday after pro-China groups pulled down some of the “Lennon Walls” of anti-government messages. There were violent clashes elsewhere in the city.
Police condemned the violence and said there had been many serious injuries in fights between people of “different views”.
“They threw petrol bombs at police vehicles and police officers, and even attempted to snatch the revolver of a police officer,” police said in a statement on Sunday.
In a late-night statement on Saturday, the government strongly condemned the radical protesters’ “violent and vandalistic acts which completely disregard law and order”.
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng wrote on her blog that the rule of law would be upheld. “Our courts administer justice in full accordance with the law and admissible evidence... Some may not like the outcome but it does not mean that the independence of the judiciary is in any way compromised,” she wrote.
The protests escalated in June over a legislation, now withdrawn, that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. Demands have since broadened into calls for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, and universal suffrage.
The protesters are angry about what they see as creeping Chinese interference in the former British colony, which returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” framework intended to guarantee freedoms that are not enjoyed on the mainland.
China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” arrangement and denies meddling. It has accused foreign governments including the United States and Britain of inciting the unrest.
Hong Kong’s chief secretary for administration said on Sunday that the Hong Kong government hopes to seek solutions to problems through sincere dialogues and that he has started in-depth dialogues with people from different sectors.
“The (Hong Kong) SAR government hopes to engage in sincere dialogues with people from all walks of life and with different political stands and backgrounds, so as to more thoroughly understand the deep-seated problems in the society, seek solutions and push Hong Kong forward,” Mr Cheung Kin Chung said in a blog article published on the official website of the Chief Secretary for Administration. SAR refers to Special Administrative Region.
Mr Cheung said that besides his recent in-depth dialogues with people from different sectors, the Commission on Children and the Youth Development Commission, both chaired by him, also held meetings last week to discuss the controversies caused by current social incidents.
The meeting of the Commission on Children, focusing on issues including campus bullying, agreed that inappropriate exposure to violent scenes may have a far-reaching emotional impact on children, and called on people to put the good of children as the priority, he said.
The Youth Development Commission has held a thematic meeting focusing on housing, and will hold more such meetings on issues of education and employment, Mr Cheung said, adding that secretaries of relevant departments of the SAR government will attend the meetings and listen to advice.
“The government earnestly hopes the society will return to calm, replace confrontation with sincere dialogue and rebuild mutual trust,” Mr Cheung said, stressing that the SAR government will strive to build a caring, peaceful, inclusive and just Hong Kong with a sincere, pragmatic and humble attitude and a people-oriented approach.
The government announced last week that Mrs Lam and some of her principal officials will meet members of the public at the first community dialogue session on Thursday (Sept 26), as she tries to engage the people amid the ongoing anti-government protests.
WITH REPORTING FROM REUTERS, BLOOMBERG AND XINHUA NEWS AGENCIES