HONG KONG - Chaos broke out in Hong Kong on Sunday (Nov 6) night as police officers used pepper spray on protesters while demonstrators retaliated by hurling plastic bottles at the cops in front of the Chinese liaison office.
In chaotic scenes reminiscent of mass pro-democracy protests in 2014, demonstrators charged metal fences set up by police outside China's liaison office in the semi-autonomous city.
Protesters used umbrellas to shield themselves from the spray as they tried to approach the building, while some threw water and water bottles at police.
Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers had taken to the streets earlier in the afternoon to protest a move by Beijing to intervene in a controversy over two Hong Kong lawmakers who had their swearing-in oaths invalidated for insulting China.
Protesters held up placards and chanted slogans, demanding for Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun Ying to step down and for Beijing to stop intervening in the city's affairs.
The protesters, who said they were prepared to stay up the whole night, caused massive traffic disruptions as they marched towards the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong. Police officers who were deployed formed human barricades to stop the crowd from moving towards their destination, though demonstrators eventually managed to force the police to close off some roads for them to proceed.
However, the scene turned chaotic as the protesters continued trying to push past the security cordons. At least one person was seen taken away by multiple officers before scuffles broke out.
Police warned protesters they were involved in an "unlawful assembly" and told them to disperse, as they donned riot gear. By 2.30am, the 4,000-strong protesters had dispersed, leaving police still standing guard on the streets. Police said they have arrested four people.
Beijing, which will issue a rare interpretation of Hong Kong's Basic Law or mini-Constitution on Monday (Nov 7), is said to be seeking to bar the two pro-independence lawmakers, Mr Sixtus "Baggio" Leung and Ms Yau Wai Ching, from retaking their swearing-in oath.
Beijing's move had sparked widespread concern that China is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city.
While Hong Kong is part of China, it has been guaranteed a high degree of autonomy under the "one country, two systems" framework after the city was returned to China in 1997. Beijing's initiative to interpret the Basic Law erodes the city's autonomy and undermines its judicial independence, said Hong Kong lawyers.
Said Mr Kevin Lee, 28, an IT analyst who joined the protest march: "Everyone has their own way of expressing their views. Those two lawmakers were democratically-elected."
"It's for Hong Kongers to decide if we want them as lawmakers. Beijing said they have their bottom line, they need to know that Hong Kong also has its bottom line and we will not allow them to intervene."
The saga had started when Hong Kong chief executive Leung mounted an unprecedented legal move to challenge Legislative Council president Andrew Leung's decision to allow the two lawmakers to retake the oath.
On Nov 3, the oath-taking row was heard in Hong Kong High Court. Lawyers representing Ms Leung and Ms Yau argued that the oath dispute should be dealt with within the legislature and the validity of the oath should be determined by the oath administrator.
But to Beijing, those words and actions of Mr Leung, 30 and Ms Yau, 25, have "openly challenged the Basic Law, hampered the normal operation of the authorities of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and undermined the rule of law in Hong Kong", Beijing said in a statement on Saturday (Nov 6), reported Xinhua news agency.
"They have hit the bottom line of the 'one country, two systems' principle and posed a grave threat to national sovereignty and security."
On Saturday (Nov 6), China's national broadcaster said that Beijing may set out the "format and conduct" for lawmakers to take their oaths and criteria for disqualification.
Additional reporting from AFP