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Saturday, Oct 19, 2019

Hong Kong police, protesters clash in trains as violence rages

Police arrested more than 50 people in running battles across Hong Kong and fired two warning shots in a standoff with a crowd.

world Updated: Sep 01, 2019 13:21 IST
Shamim Adam and Daniel Ten Kate
Shamim Adam and Daniel Ten Kate
Bloomberg
It’s the 13th straight weekend of historic political unrest in Hong Kong as rallies over a now-suspended bill to allow extraditions to China widened into a push for greater democracy.
It’s the 13th straight weekend of historic political unrest in Hong Kong as rallies over a now-suspended bill to allow extraditions to China widened into a push for greater democracy.(REUTERS)
         

Hong Kong’s riot police charged at protesters in subway carriages with batons and pepper spray in a night of some of the worst violence seen in three months of anti-China demonstrations. The city was braced Sunday for planned disruptions to airport transportation.

Police arrested more than 50 people in running battles across the city and fired two warning shots in a standoff with a crowd. Demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails and bricks, and set aflame a massive road block after tens of thousands marched and vowed to drag out disruptive anti-China protests until their demands were met. Police responded with tear gas, water cannons spraying blue dye and repeated baton charges.

Some train stations remained shuttered on Sunday morning and subway services were interrupted, after riot police were called to a station because of a clash between protesters and other passengers. Police used batons and pepper spray on passengers.

Police arrested 40 for offences including participating in an unauthorized assembly, criminal damage and obstructing police officers, Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu said at a press conference held in the early hours of Sunday morning. Separately, 11 people were arrested in Causeway Bay and Sai Wan for possessing weapons yesterday, she said. The gunshots were fired because there were “serious threats” to the lives of its officers, police said.

It’s the 13th straight weekend of historic political unrest in the Asian financial center as rallies over a now-suspended bill to allow extraditions to China widened into a push for greater democracy. The violence came after police denied permission for the mass rally and arrested several prominent pro-democracy activists, warning others could also be detained for taking part in unauthorized assemblies.

Numerous protesters on Saturday said those arrests -- which included Joshua Wong, who led an earlier wave of protests in 2014 -- had angered many and drawn people to the streets as they fight to preserve democratic freedoms. Some vowed to continue protests in the coming days and said they were resorting to increasingly radical tactics, including targeting the city’s busy international airport, because the government didn’t listen after peaceful rallies of almost 2 million people.

“Hopefully they will hear us if we do these kind of aggressive actions,” said Cheung, a 23-year-old protester clad in goggles and a gas mask, who only gave his surname. “There’ve been lots of peaceful protests and there was no response from the government. That’s why we’re being more aggressive and trying to disrupt the Hong Kong economy,” he said as police fired tear gas nearby at protesters pelting the city’s Legislative Council complex with eggs and bricks.

Police Approval

The rally, called by the organizer of some of the city’s biggest protests, was canceled after failing to get police approval. It was originally planned to coincide with a decree from Beijing five years ago that dashed the hopes of many for true democracy in the former colony and helped set off the Occupy protest movement in 2014.

“We’re here to protest that decision and to tell the Chinese government we do not agree with anything that is a barrier to our democracy, our universal suffrage,” said a 21-year-old student protester, who only gave his first name, Hugo.

On Saturday, the Hong Kong government issued a formal statement on the issue, repeating that universal suffrage is the “ultimate aim,” but that election reforms will take place “in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress.”

The ongoing unrest represents the biggest threat to Beijing’s oversight of Hong Kong since the return to Chinese rule in 1997, and is a geopolitical embarrassment for President Xi Jinping as his government gets set to celebrate 70 years of communist rule on Oct. 1.

Emergency Powers

As demonstrations drag out, protesters and the Hong Kong administration are being driven further apart. The government of Chief Executive Carrie Lam is refusing to rule out using a colonial-era emergency powers law, while demonstrators are ramping up disruptive protests as authorities stand firm on rejecting their demands for greater democracy.

The clashes on Saturday were some of the most tense so far. Tear gas fired at protesters in gas masks and hardhats were lobbed back at officers, along with petrol bombs and bricks.

Protesters later assembled a massive roadblock of plastic barricades and metal railings, as well as stands and fencing from a nearby park, before setting it on fire in the middle of Hennessy Road, a main thoroughfare that cuts through the city’s Wan Chai area. The fire sent thick plumes of black smoke into the air before firefighters extinguished the blaze.

“The main objective of the fire is, first, to show that we are willing to fight,” said a university student who only gave his surname, Lau, as the fire blazed a block away. “The second objective is that we’ve formed a very major barricade for the police to overcome before they can charge toward us. This will give our frontline fighters more time to leave because a lot of protesters are being arrested already.”

Many demonstrators who participated in a peaceful march through the city left as clashes started. They came out in the pouring rain despite the police ban that exposed many of them to potential arrest.

Pluralistic Society

“They are trying to scare us, but I’m ready to be arrested,” said Philip, a 60-year-old pastor who only gave his first name and marched with his wife and two children. He said that he didn’t want to see clashes between protesters and police.

Ronny Tong, a member of Lam’s advisory Executive Council, said in an interview on Friday that many Hong Kongers want to see demonstrators punished for the more violent protests that have occurred throughout the ongoing unrest.

“We are a very pluralistic society and there’s been a very loud cry from different sectors of the community who have called for the arrest of the ringleaders of people who have been rioting in the streets, you know, committing arson and assaulting police officers,” he said.

First Published: Sep 01, 2019 12:19 IST

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