Wednesday 23 October 2019

More violence hits Hong Kong ahead of China’s National Day

Protesters are planning to march again on Tuesday despite a police ban.

Riot police (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Riot police (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

By Eileen Ng, Associated Press

Protesters and police have clashed in Hong Kong for a second straight day, throwing the territory’s business and shopping belt into chaos and sparking fears of more ugly scenes leading up to China’s National Day holiday this week.

Riot police repeatedly fired blue liquid — used to identify protesters — from a water cannon and multiple volleys of tear gas after demonstrators hurled petrol bombs at officers and targeted the city’s government office complex.

It was a repeat of Saturday’s clashes and part of a familiar cycle since pro-democracy protests began in early June. The protests were sparked by a now-shelved extradition bill and have since snowballed into an anti-China movement.

Protesters are planning to march again on Tuesday despite a police ban, raising fears of more violent confrontations that would embarrass Chinese President Xi Jinping as his ruling Communist Party marks 70 years since taking power. Posters are calling for October 1 to be marked as “A Day of Grief”.

Hong Kong’s government has already scaled down the city’s National Day celebrations, cancelling an annual fireworks display and moving a reception indoors.

Despite security concerns, the government said on Sunday that chief executive Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, will lead a delegation of more than 240 people to Beijing on Monday to participate in National Day festivities.

Sunday’s turmoil started in the early afternoon when police fired tear gas to disperse a large crowd in the popular Causeway Bay shopping district, but thousands of people regrouped and defiantly marched along a main thoroughfare towards government offices, crippling traffic.

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Pro-democracy protests began in early June (Vincent Thian/AP)

Protesters, many clad in black with umbrellas and carrying pro-democracy posters and foreign flags, sang songs and chanted “Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom”.

Some defaced, tore down and burned National Day signs, setting off a huge blaze on the street. Others smashed windows and lobbed petrol bombs into subway exits that had been shuttered.

Police then fired a water cannon and tear gas as the crowd approached the government office complex. Most fled but hundreds returned, hurling objects into the complex.

Members of an elite police squad, commonly known as raptors, then charged out from behind barricades, taking many protesters by surprise. Several who failed to flee in time were subdued and detained in a scene of chaos.

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Police fire pepper spray (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

The raptors, backed by scores of riot police, pursued protesters down roads. Officers continued to fire a water cannon and more tear gas, and the cat-and-mouse clashes lasted late into the night. Streets were left littered with graffiti on walls and debris.

The demonstration was part of global “anti-totalitarianism” rallies to denounce “Chinese tyranny”. Thousands rallied in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, while more than 1,000 took part in a rally in Sydney.

The protracted unrest, approaching four months long, has battered Hong Kong’s economy, with businesses and tourism plunging.

Ms Lam held her first community dialogue with the public on Thursday in a bid to defuse tensions but failed to persuade protesters, who vowed to press on until their demands are met, including direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability.

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Protesters in Hong Kong (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of pro-Beijing Hong Kong residents sang the Chinese national anthem and waved red flags at the Victoria Peak hilltop and a waterfront cultural centre in a show of support for Chinese rule.

PA Media

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