Hong Kong police have fired tear gas in at least five areas around the city in a bid to disperse protesters on Sunday (Aug 11), in another day of unauthorised marches that have turned into clashes between law enforcers and demonstrators.
Tear gas was fired at protesters in Wan Chai, Tsim Sha Tsui, the working class district of Sham Shui Po and outside the police stations of Cheung Sha Wan and Kwai Chung.
Reuters reporters said two petrol bombs were thrown which set off small fires on the streets in the downtown bar district of Wan Chai, while tear gas volleys and advancing riot police sent some protesters fleeing.
In a statement released on Facebook, the police said the report room services at Kwai Chung police station have been temporarily suspended, and appealed to members of the public not to obstruct emergency vehicle access in the area.
RTHK reported that tear gas was directly fired into the Kwai Fong MTR station and trains have bypassed the platform.
Black-clad protesters, defying a police ban on protest marches, had surrounded Sham Shui Po police station as well as occupied the main thoroughfare of Cheung Sha Wan Road.
Some of them set up barricades at the junctions of Cheung Sha Wan Road and Yen Chow Street, obstructing traffic in the area. Others gathered near Dragon Centre shopping mall at Yen Chow Street and were seen hurling bricks at police officers.
Despite the tear gas, most of the protesters were undeterred, local broadcaster RTHK reported. After pulling back for a while, they regrouped again near the police station to continue with the standoff.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters also ignored a police ban and started marching towards Causeway Bay and Wan Chai after leaving a police-approved rally at Victoria Park earlier in the day. They then occupied Hennessy Road in Causeway Bay near Sogo department store.
Local TV footage showed the protesters in Sham Shui Po shouting slogans such as “Hong Kong police, know the law and yet break the law”.
The slogan was in reference to alleged police collusion with local triads, after a July 21 attack on protesters and commuters at Yuen Long MTR station by white-clad men said to be linked to triads. Protesters said that police were slow to respond to calls for help on that night. The police have denied the allegation of collusion.
Anti-government protests were planned in different locations in the Asian financial hub on Sunday. Protesters were also on their third and final day of a sit-in at the city’s airport that was billed as way to explain their movement to arriving visitors.
The fresh protests on Sunday came after a night of cat-and-mouse demonstrations around the city, with protesters taking their mantra of flexible action – “Be Water” – to new heights.
The rallies largely avoided the lengthy pitched battles between the two sides that have been seen in recent weeks. Protesters said they were adopting a new strategy to try to minimise direct confrontations with police.
“Our aim is no injuries, no bleeding and not getting arrested,” said a 17-year-old student protester who gave his surname as Chan. “I think our previous tactics of staying in one place led to many arrests and injuries… We need to ‘be water’ to avoid injuries,” he told AFP at the Victoria Park gathering.
Police said on Sunday they had arrested 16 people during the protests on Saturday for unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapon, assaulting a police officer and obstructing a police officer in the execution of duties. Authorities have arrested more than 600 people since the protests escalated in June.
In a statement on Sunday, the Hong Kong government strongly condemned protesters’ acts on Saturday night, stressing that their behaviour is “not only illegal but also disregarding public order and the needs of other members of the public”.
POLICE BAN SUNDAY PROTESTS
Police have not given permission for the two marches planned on Sunday: in Sham Shui Po in Kowloon (from Maple Street Playground to Sham Shui Po Sports Ground), and in North Point on Hong Kong Island (from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to Java Road Playground in North Point).
The rally at Victoria Park, however, has been allowed by the police.
Several leisure and public facilities, as well as shops in Sham Shui Po, were closed in the afternoon when protests were expected.
Earlier in the day, large water barriers were placed around Sham Shui Po police station in anticipation of attacks from protesters as seen in previous demonstrations. Bricks in the brick-laid pavement near the police station were also glued together to prevent protesters from digging them up for use as projectiles during protests, broadcaster TVB reported.
Rubbish bins in Sham Shui Po were chained to railings, RTHK reported. In previous clashes with police, protesters had set fire to rubbish bins used as part of their barricades on the streets.
In North Point, a huge netting was draped over the lower floors of the police station to protect the building.
Protesters have increasingly adopted flash tactics, playing a cat-and-mouse game with police to evade capture.
Young people have been at the forefront of recent protests, worried about the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, while also concerned with issues such as wealth disparities in the city.
Elderly people have also been appearing. On Saturday in two separate protests, small groups of elderly Hong Kongers and families marched near the financial centre’s business districts, Reuters reported.
Both marches and the airport protests were peaceful.
Increasingly violent protests have plunged Hong Kong into its most serious political crisis in decades, posing a serious challenge to the central government in Beijing which has taken an increasingly tough line on the protests.
China has said that the central government would not sit idly by and let the situation continue. Hong Kong’s government has also said the violence and illegal protests were pushing the city to an extremely dangerous edge.
In the latest warning, Beijing’s ambassador to the European Union, Mr Zhang Ming, said that the protests in Hong Kong cannot continue.
“Hong Kong is part of China. The Chinese people would not allow the situation to get out of control… Some people are violating the basic law, they are playing (with) fire,” said Mr Zhang, as quoted by Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK on Sunday.
China has also targeted the city’s corporate giants, demanding that the city’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific Airways suspend staff involved in the demonstrations.
The airline told staff on Saturday it would bar any “overly radical” employees from crewing flights to the mainland and said it had removed a pilot who was arrested at protests last week from duty, according to Reuters.
The former British colony of Hong Kong is roiling from months of protests that began against a proposed Bill to allow people to be extradited to stand trial in various jurisdiction, including mainland China, and have developed into calls for greater democracy.
Protesters have demanded for an inquiry into police use of force against protesters, the withdrawal of the extradition Bill, the resignation of the city’’ leader Carrie Lam, the release of those arrested in earlier protests, and democratic elections for Hong Kong.