HONG KONG - Entire streets were left shrouded in tear gas on Sunday (July 28) as Hong Kong police fought pitched street battles with protesters, firing numerous gas canisters and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd which had deviated from an approved route.
Demonstrators were meant to gather at Chater Garden in Central but many moved east towards the Causeway Bay shopping district, while some headed west towards Beijing’s Liaison Office.
Another group headed towards Golden Bauhinia Square in Wanchai, which hosts official ceremonies.
The event was intended to call attention to police action last Sunday, when law enforcement officers fired tear gas and foam and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who had marched beyond a designated ending spot in Wanchai, with a small number moving on to vandalise the exterior of the Liaison Office.
On Sunday, demonstrators built barricades around the Sogo departmental store in Causeway Bay, prompting it to shut early.
In Sai Ying Pun, a residential neighbourhood close to the Liaison Office, police in riot gear and protesters were locked in a stand-off for hours, with many curious residents milling around to catch the action.
As the sun set, police pushed back at protesters, who had built barricades on several roads – forcing shops to close as crowds gathered.
Protesters fought back, hurling projectiles like bottles, rocks and umbrellas at officers, or pushing flaming objects – including rubbish bins and a metal cart – at them.
By 11.20pm, protesters pushed back towards Sheung Wan had dispersed, over four hours after police started clearance operations.
The police issued a statement on Facebook at about 11pm, warning the protesters they will be arrested if they refuse to leave.
In the statement, the police said the dispersal operation was still ongoing and that a large number of protesters were still gathering in the Sheung Wan area.
"The officers have proceeded with another round of dispersal and are moving their cordon lines from Shun Tak Centre on the west side and Harbour Building on the east side," the statement said, adding that the officers have set cordon lines on the roads on the south side.
The police appealed to all protesters to immediately leave the area surrounding Sheung Wan Station and warned that they will arrest the participants who refuse to leave.
Urban rail operator MTR Corp suspended some services while about 30 bus services were rerouted. Ferries to Macau from Sheung Wan had also been stopped.
Thousands of protesters, many clad in black, gathered at various locations on Sunday afternoon, deviating from the police-approved protest site of Chater Garden.
At around 3.30pm, crowds began walking away from Chater Garden public park, chanting “black cops, despicable” in Cantonese.
Sunday’s rally was the eighth straight weekend of protests to oppose a controversial extradition Bill.
Participants are making five demands: that the extradition Bill be fully scrapped, the label of June 12 protests as a “riot” be removed, allegations of police abuse be investigated, the release of protesters who were arrested, and for universal suffrage to be implemented by next year.
“We’re here for the same five requests and until the government responds to us, we’ll keep coming,” said Ms Ki Lo, 26, who marched down Hennessy Road with a friend. “We also need to send a message that the way the police have been behaving is not acceptable.”
She said she was worried Hong Kong will see a day where people no longer have freedom of speech and the right to protest freely.
Student King Fok, 16, had earlier marched with friends from Central to Causeway Bay but was heading towards the island’s west to lend support after hearing news of the police firing tear gas. “We need to show the police that they cannot behave in this manner, as we keep saying, we come here together, we must leave together,” he said.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, the Central Government’s authority of the Special Autonomous Region, will be hold a briefing on Monday (July 29).
Sunday’s planned protest on the city’s main island came a day after clashes between protesters and police in the northern town of Yuen Long.
Organisers said 288,000 people turned up to show their opposition to the July 21 assault by more than 100 white-shirted men who were armed with sticks and metal bars and were said to be linked to triads.
Earlier in the day, ahead of the rally, organiser Ventus Lau called on the police not to prematurely clear the crowd and to show restraint, as he has the proper paperwork for the gathering at Chater Garden.
“As of now, we’re not calling on any peaceful participants of the rally to take part in any march. But if anyone, of their own initiative, decides to take part in any activities around the Sheung Wan area, I will encourage them and stand behind them,” Mr Lau said.
Large water barriers were put up around the Liaison Office as well as Western District Police Headquarters and Police Station ahead of the rally, broadcaster RTHK reported. Police officers were also deployed outside the Liaison Office, according to broadcaster TVB.
The Liaison Office put up a plastic casing over the red national emblem at its building, which was vandalised during protests on July 21, according to Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper. Protesters had thrown ink onto the emblem, sprayed graffiti on the building's walls, defaced the office’s plaque and threw eggs at the building. The actions drew stern warnings from Beijing.
Bricks on brick-laid pavements on Connaught Road West - near the police HQ and police station as well as the Liaison Office - were glued together so that they could not be dug up by protesters and used as missiles against law enforcers, broadcaster TVB reported.
Some shops in the area decided to shut early in view of the afternoon protest, while others did not open for business for the day.
VIOLENCE IN YUEN LONG
Sunday's protest on the city's main island comes a day after clashes between protesters and police in the northern town of Yuen Long, where a police-banned protest turned violent.
Police said that at around 3pm, some protesters started to block the roads and surround Yuen Long Police Station. Some of the protesters used metal poles and self-made shields to attack police officers and charge police cordon line. They also removed fences from roads to form road blocks.
Protesters, which organisers said numbered around 288,000, showed up to show their opposition to the assault a week ago by more than 100 white-shirted men who were armed with sticks and metal bars and were said to be linked to triads.
The men had attacked people returning from an anti-extradition protest on Hong Kong island as well as commuters who had alighted at Yuen Long MTR station. The assault left at least 45 people injured.
Meanwhile, the organiser of Saturday's protest in Yuen Long has been arrested for allegedly organising an illegal assembly, police said during a press conference earlier on Sunday.
Mr Max Chung, whose application to hold a rally in Yuen Long was rejected by police, was taken away after speaking at RTHK's City Forum in Victoria Park, a weekly public forum that brings politicians, academics and prominent figures together to discuss current issues.
GOVT CONDEMNS VIOLENCE
The government of Hong Kong has strongly condemned the protesters who took part in the violence on Yuen Long on Saturday, saying that the police will take serious follow-up actions.
In a statement on Sunday morning, the government said that it "deeply regretted that some people still took part in the public procession and public meeting in Yuen Long, despite the prohibition and objection by the police".
The statement said: "After the public procession, some radical protesters violently charged police's cordon lines, vandalised a police vehicle and blocked roads.
"The government strongly condemned the protesters for breaching the public peace and breaking the law deliberately. The police will take serious follow up actions with those violent protesters."
Police have arrested 13 people, aged between 18 and 68, for offences including unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapon, assaulting police officer and assault. At least four police officers were injured.
The Hospital Authority said that as of 8am on Sunday, 24 people were treated in hospital after the protests. Two of the injured were in a serious condition, broadcaster TVB reported.
Hong Kong has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history after millions of demonstrators took to the streets - and sporadic violent confrontations erupted between police and pockets of hardcore protesters.
The demonstrations were triggered by a controversial Bill that would have allowed fugitives to be extradited to several jurisdictions, including China. While Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the Bill has been shelved, her actions have done little to soothe the public’s anger.
The protests against the extradition Bill have since evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.