Hong Kong police use force to clear protesters
Demonstrators gathered in the Yuen Long area, even though they had been told to avoid it due to protest-linked violence there last weekend.
Hong Kong police fired tear gas, swung batons and forcefully cleared out protesters who defied warnings not to march in an area where six days earlier a mob apparently targeting demonstrators attacked people in a train station.
Protesters dressed all in black streamed through the Yuen Long area, even though police refused to grant permission for the march due to the risk of confrontation between demonstrators and local residents.
By nightfall, protesters and police were once again facing off in the streets – as they have done several times previously during the summer-long pro-democracy protests.
Demonstrators threw objects and ducked behind makeshift shields, and police officers shot plumes of tear gas into the air.
For the protesters, it was a show of defiance against both the police and the white-clad assailants who beat dozens of people on July 21, including some demonstrators heading home after a mass protest.
Police said some of the attackers at the train station were connected to triad gangs and others were villagers who live in the area.
Demonstrators accused police of not acting quickly enough to protect the victims and even colluding with the mob – an allegation police have firmly denied.
The streets of Yuen Long became a sea of umbrellas as the march began on Saturday afternoon.
A symbol going back to the Occupy Central protests that shook Hong Kong in 2014, umbrellas have become tools to help protesters conceal their identities from police cameras as well as shields against tear gas and pepper spray.
Protesters chanted: “Hong Kong police know the law and break the law,” as they made their way through the streets.
Max Chung Kin-ping, one of the rally’s organisers, said there were 288,000 participants. The police are yet to release their turnout figure, which is generally lower.
Less than three hours after the start of the march, police fired tear gas to try to disperse crowds that had ignored authorities’ appeals to leave the area.
Police said in a statement they were clearing out the protesters, who were “holding iron poles, self-made shields and even removing fences from roads”.
Some protesters also endangered police officers’ lives by surrounding and vandalising an occupied police vehicle, the statement added.
As the demonstration rolled into the evening, officers in riot gear faced off with protesters using pieces of wood as shields.
Live footage from broadcaster RTHK showed protesters on one street forcing back riot police by throwing umbrellas and waving rods at them. On another street, officers repeatedly raised warnings and fired tear gas at masked demonstrators who were standing their ground.
A group of officers appeared with batons and held up banners that read, “Stop charging or we use force”.
By the waning hours of Saturday, some protesters remained in and around Yuen Long station. Police warned in a statement that they risk arrest.
A statement read: “Police hereby reiterate that the protesters are participating in an unauthorised assembly and may be liable to a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.”
Police wearing heavy-duty helmets and wielding batons then suddenly charged into the train station, where a few hundred protesters had taken refuge from the tear gas.
Some officers swung their batons directly at demonstrators, while others appeared to be urging their colleagues to hang back.
Massive demonstrations began in Hong Kong early last month against an extradition Bill that would have allowed suspects to face trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.
The Bill was eventually suspended, but protesters’ demands have grown to include direct elections, the dissolution of the current legislature and an investigation into alleged police brutality.