Hong Kong police arrested protesters in multiple districts on Sunday (Oct 13) after they ignored warnings to disperse in another weekend of anti-government demonstrations that began with peaceful rallies at shopping malls before turning more chaotic as protesters trashed shops, blocked roads and faced off with police in skirmishes.
Numerous arrests were made in at least four districts where gatherings not approved by the police were held.
Police said they arrested two people after a riot police officer was slashed on the neck while dispersing protesters outside Kwun Tong MTR station. The injured officer was sent to hospital for medical treatment.
Tear gas and pepper spray were also deployed against protesters, though Sunday’s protests – the city’s 19th straight weekend of demonstrations – were largely peaceful and attracted smaller crowds than previous ones.
In Mong Kok, police used pepper spray on protesters participating in an unlawful assembly who had refused orders to leave and then heckled at officers, footage from Apple Daily showed.
At least two rounds of tear gas were fired in Tsuen Wan to disperse protesters who had clashed with police, broadcaster TVB reported.
Protesters put up makeshift barriers to block traffic, including erecting lattices with bamboo poles across major roadways in Mong Kok.
The police, who have been accused of deploying excessive force, said in a statement on Sunday they used the “minimum necessary force to disperse protesters”. “We warn the rioters to stop their illegal acts immediately,” they said.
The arrest of the protesters – many clad in black and wearing masks – came after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Oct 4 invoked an emergency law to ban face masks during protests. She had said the new law, which kicked in on Oct 5, would bring back “peace and order” to the city.
The ban carries a maximum one-year jail term, but thousands, including school children and office workers, have defied the ban since it came into effect.
Protesters on Sunday continued to vandalise or damage the metro stations. Around 3pm, protesters hurled objects onto the rail track of Sha Tin MTR station, a police statement said, adding that the act ignored the safety of members of the public as the station was in operation at that time.
The protests have led to the suspension of the city’s entire light rail service, MTR Corporation said in an announcement on its website. At least nine MTR stations, including Tsuen Wan, Sha Tin and City One MTR stations, have been shut.
The rail operator also warned that other stations may close at anytime without prior notice, citing safety reasons.
MTR Corporation, which usually carries some 5 million people daily, had said that it will shut early on Sunday at 10pm to allow its staff more time to repair damaged facilities at various stations. The Airport Express service between central Hong Kong and the airport will also be halted.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of protesters staged rallies at shopping malls across the city where they chanted anti-extradition slogans.
At New Town Plaza in Sha Tin, protesters sang the Cantonese protest anthem, Glory to Hong Kong, to a live saxophone rendition, according to TV footage from Apple Daily.
In one incident a group of 50 shoppers inside a mall faced off against riot police outside, chanting “Hong Kong police mafia”. The shoppers cheered when police drove off.
In another mall, a group of riot police were forced to retreat backwards by chanting shoppers until they were outside of the mall.
By late afternoon, however, hardcore black-clad activists had trashed some shops, including a store owned by the Chinese technology company Huawei.
In a statement, police said that many of the masked protesters have sprayed paint and caused damage to the facilities at various malls.
Meanwhile, elderly protesters staged a silent sit-in for a second day to show solidarity with the young protesters, the vast majority of whom are students. Some of the “silver hairs” tied 120 knots in a string that they looped around a tree to signify 120 days of “Carrie Lam’s ignorance and arrogance.”
Hong Kong has been battered by four months of often massive and violent protests against what is seen as Beijing’s tightening grip on the Chinese-ruled city.
About 100 Hong Kong restaurants have shut down because of the protests in the city, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said in a blog post on Sunday. Around 2,000 employees have been affected as a result of the closures, Mr Chan said in the Chinese-language post, citing the catering industry. He did not provide further details.
Some retailers have also had to reduce the number of stores or cut back on staff, and several recent sport and entertainment events have had to be cancelled for security reasons, Mr Chan said.
He urged property owners and developers to follow the lead of railway operator MTR Corporation in offering rent relief to affected retailers, adding that Airport Authority Hong Kong is also considering assistance to its tenants at the airport.
Earlier on Sunday, protesters scaled the city’s Lion Rock peak and hoisted a large statue they called “Lady Liberty” to rally anti-government activists ahead of more planned demonstrations in the Asian financial hub.
The 3m tall statue, wearing a gas mask, helmet and protective goggles, was carried up the 500m peak in the dead of night by several dozen protesters, some wearing head lamps, during an overnight thunderstorm.
It held a black banner that read “Revolution of our time, Liberate Hong Kong” and could be seen from the city below.
The statue represented an injured woman protester believed by activists to have been shot in the eye by a police projectile.
One of the protesters told Reuters he hoped it would inspire Hong Kong people to keep fighting.
“We are telling people that you mustn’t give up. All problems can be resolved with Hong Kong people’s persistence and hard work to reach our aims,” he said.
The protests started in opposition to a now-abandoned extradition Bill but have widened into a pro-democracy movement and an outlet for anger at social inequality in the city, which boasts some of the world’s most expensive real estate.
Protesters believe China has been eroding Hong Kong’s freedoms, guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” framework introduced with the 1997 handover.
The now-withdrawn extradition Bill, under which residents would have been sent to Communist-controlled mainland courts, was seen as the latest move to tighten control.
China denies the accusation and says foreign countries, including Britain and the United States, are fomenting unrest.