HONG KONG - Police on Sunday (Aug 25) deployed two water cannons and fired a warning shot for the first time in Hong Kong's increasingly violent anti-government protests.
Protesters left the northern district of Tsuen Wan on Sunday night, regrouping in several districts across the city including Wong Tai Sin, Tsim Sha Tsui and Sham Shui Po, in a game of cat and mouse.
Amid heavy rain, a flash mob showed up at the Kowloon side of the Cross Harbour Tunnel, smashing toll booths and destroying surveillance cameras, before putting metal objects on the road to disrupt traffic.
In Sham Shui Po, scores of protesters with umbrellas shouting "hak seh wui", or "triads", at riot police gathered to disperse the crowd. They also surrounded the area's police station, shining laser beams into the building and shouting at officers, but quickly dispersed when riot police started charging.
At Wong Tai Sin, the site of violent clashes between protesters and officers weeks before, a small group was locked in a stand-off with police at a shopping mall. Protesters and residents hurled insults and barked at officers outside, a reference to a derogatory term protesters have used on the police.
Shortly after 8pm, at least three officers drew their service revolvers on a group of protesters who had attacked them, resulting in a stand-off at a nearby building with reporters unhappy that a gun had been pointed at them. Riot police were brought to reinforce the officers.
A uniformed officer had fired a warning shot during the encounter, a senior police officer told journalists at the scene but did not go into further details, citing the need for further investigation.
Police had earlier deployed two vehicles equipped with water cannons - a first during dispersal operations - on the streets of Tsuen Wan, a town in the New Territories area close to the Chinese border.
The vehicles slowly cruised down streets and directed their water cannons at makeshift barricades as police cleared roads after protesters retreated southward. Most had dispersed by about 7.30pm.
This came as multiple rounds of tear gas were fired to clear protesters, following an approved protest march earlier in the day.
But as protesters dispersed, a splinter group targeted several shops in Yi Pei Square in Tsuen Wan, the site of clashes between pro-democracy protesters and government supporters, trashing several shops including a restaurant and a mahjong parlour.
In the late afternoon, groups of demonstrators occupied the streets in Tsuen Wan with barricades made of dismantled roadside fences, bamboo poles, water-filled barriers, traffic cones and dustbins near Tsuen Wan Park, the official end point of the march that started at Kwai Chung Sports Ground.
Residents in the area scuttered away as fast as they could, covering their mouths with towels or their palms. Others went into nearby malls to hide.
Despite warning from the police, angry protesters advanced towards the officers at Yeung Uk Road next to shopping mall Citywalk and threw bricks and petrol bombs at the police, who fired volleys of tear gas and rounds of foam pellets in return.
The water-cannon vehicles then slowly cruised down streets and were used to clear makeshift barricades after protesters retreated southward, with some hiding in nearby malls.
Umbrellas were used to hold the glass entrances of one mall so that the police could not enter, while a hose spurting water was spotted behind one entrance wetting the floor to make it slippery.
Earlier in the afternoon, thousands of black-clad protesters marched off from Kwai Chung Sports Ground in light rain.
Chanting several protest slogans, including "hak gehng" (black cops in Cantonese, a reference to the police being in cahoots with the triads), "Hong Kong yahn, gar yau" (people of Hong Kong, keep it up), and "liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times", the protesters marched off in the 12th straight weekend of protests against a controversial extradition Bill.
Undergraduate Christy Lee, 18, said she did not think Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s plea for calm and dialogue a day earlier was sincere.
“If she wants to communicate with us, all she has to do is come and join us, listen to our slogans and she will know what demands we have. Our five demands are very clear so there’s no need for dialogue," Ms Lee told ST.
Asked whether the protests might be the ideal place for any dialogue, given that some protesters are emotionally charged, Ms Lee said she believes protesters will be calm and not hurt Mrs Lam, as “she’s the one who can respond to us, so why would we harm her?”
On Saturday, Mrs Lam said in a Facebook post, titled We Are All Tired, that her meeting earlier in the day with dozens of prominent individuals, including university heads and former secretaries, was for participants to suggest ideas for her proposal to set up a platform for dialogue.
The unhappiness in society has been rising and could breed hatred, Mrs Lam wrote, adding: “After more than two months of escalated protests, we are all tired, can we just sit and talk?”
The protesters’ five key demands include an independent inquiry into police brutality, a full withdrawal of the now-suspended extradition Bill, and greater democracy.
Earlier in the afternoon on Sunday, scuffles broke out between some local residents and police officers who were called in to help close Kwai Fong MTR station.
Residents were upset about the closure of the station and the inconvenience caused, with some refusing to leave the station, public broadcaster RTHK reported. A group of them were eventually pushed out by police and the station's shutters were pulled down.
A number of stations on the Tsuen Wan line, including Kwai Fong station, were closed from 1.30pm in view of what the metro operator MTR called "public events". Besides Kwai Fong station, Tsuen Wan station was also shut, as was the case for Tsuen Wan West station on the West Rail line.
The shutdowns took place ahead of the protest march in the working class district of Tsuen Wan, starting at the Kwai Chung Sports Ground and ending at Tsuen Wan Park with a rally.
Separately, about a hundred people gathered in Central in support of the families of police officers, who have come under huge pressure as protesters grow increasingly hostile against the force, RTHK reported. At the same time, the participants also called for police restraint during operations to clear protesters.
Fearing for the safety of its staff, should protesters target the company over the closure of their stations, the MTR Corportation would be shutting down its headquarters in Kowloon Bay on Monday, reported RTHK.
A leaked internal memo told staff that a contingency plan had been activated and they need not turn up at the headquarters for work on Monday.
Over the weekend, protesters and residents have heavily criticised the company for closing several stations near to planned protests.
In a statement earlier on Sunday, Hong Kong police said that 29 people were arrested after clashes overnight, in which volleys of tear gas were fired to break up anti-government demonstrations.
Aged between 17 and 52, the suspects - 19 men and 10 women - were arrested for offences including the possession of offensive weapons and assault of police officers, the force said in a statement.
Those arrested included the organiser of Saturday's march, Mr Ventus Lau, according to RTHK.
Meanwhile, two more people have been charged for rioting over their alleged participation in the July 21 attacks at Yuen Long MTR station, bringing the total number charged so far to four, among 28 arrested, broadcaster TVB reported on Sunday. Their cases will be mentioned at a Fanling court on Monday.
Activists on Saturday threw petrol bombs and bricks in the gritty industrial area of Kwun Tong, a densely populated area of the Chinese territory on the east of the Kowloon peninsula.
Four MTR subway stations were closed due to the protests.
Police used tear gas after some protesters threw Molotov cocktails and bricks and others tore up "smart" lamp posts equipped with surveillance cameras. Others had set up roadblocks with bamboo scaffolding.
It was the first use of tear gas in more than a week after a series of mostly peaceful demonstrations in the former British colony.
Strongly condemning the "vandalistic and violent acts of radical protesters" on Saturday, the Hong Kong government said in a statement that the police would strictly follow up on all the illegal acts.
It also appealed to the protesters to stop the violence so that order can be restored in society as soon as possible.
FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY
The protests, which started over a now-suspended extradition Bill and have evolved into demands for greater democracy, have roiled Hong Kong for three months.
Demonstrators' demands include an independent inquiry into what they describe as police brutality, a full withdrawal of the extradition Bill, and universal suffrage.
The wider calls for democracy have plunged the city into an unprecedented crisis posing a direct challenge for Communist Party leaders in Beijing.
Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the "one country, two systems" arrangement that enshrines a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong since it was handed back from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
WITH REPORTING FROM AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AND XINHUA NEWS AGENCIES