This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Police fired large numbers of tear gas rounds and rubber bullets in Hong Kong’s central business district on Sunday, in a bid to disperse anti-government protesters after thousands gathered to make their anger known over recent violent attacks by triads and police alike.
At least four people were taken to hospital during the clashes, where they were in satisfactory condition.
While previous protests have been marked by slogans and banners opposing plans to allow extradition to mainland China, this weekend’s protests have seen protesters start to use more aggressive tactics, returning police strobe lights with pocket lasers and ripping up paving stones to hurl at riot police after tear gas and rubber bullets were fired.
The protesters are now calling their movement a revolution to “Reclaim Hong Kong,” a Chinese expression that can also mean “Free Hong Kong,” depending on context.
“I’m at the protest in Sai Wan,” Joshua Wong, a former student leader of the 2014 Occupy Central movement for fully democratic elections, said via his Twitter account.
“Outside the Chinese Liaison Office just now, police suddenly fired more than 10 rounds of tear gas against us (who were not charging at all),” Wong wrote.
“There was smoke everywhere. I’ve never suffocated like this before and felt close to fainting. Chaotic.”
Wong also said he had witnessed multiple injuries at the hands of police, as well as arrests: “Police using excessive force once again against peaceful protesters who are only occupying streets,” he wrote.
“Elsewhere rubber bullets are also fired. Dozens are injured. Many are beaten and arrested amid the mess.”
Local journalist Xinqi Su posted a photo of a livid-looking injury sustained by one protester after riot police charged on protesters.
“A young man’s left ankle is bleeding,” Su tweeted. “Another protester showed me a foam bullet and said that was what injured the man. This is the second foam bullet I saw on Connaught [Road].”
One large crowd made its way from Admiralty in an easterly direction, blocking the road outside the police headquarters in Wanchai and posting messages on the building. Others continued to the glitzy shopping district of Causeway Bay, where they occupied a street outside the Sogo department store.
Meanwhile, another crowd approached the Chinese government’s Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong Island’s Sheung Wan district, building barricades on the street and throwing debris. When police fired tear gas, protesters began throwing fragments of paving stones back, prompting police to dispatch the special squad.
The standoff then moved to barricades hastily constructed from metal traffic barriers, cable ties, and umbrellas on Connaught Road and Des Voeux Road West.
The special riot quad quickly dispersed the crowd on Des Voeux Road, subduing many on the ground, while police continued to fire tear gas rounds until the air all around was thick with it, and people in restaurants and shops were unable to escape.
Earlier, police had authorized a gathering in Central district’s Chater Garden, to which some 11,000 people turned up, chanting “Shame on the dodgy cops!” in a reference to the growing belief among protesters that the Hong Kong Police Force are acting as frontline political enforcers for the ruling Chinese Communist Party via chief executive Carrie Lam, and are colluding with triad criminal gangs.
Police said the lines of riot police were closing in on protesters late on Saturday.
“Police’s dispersal operation is still ongoing and a large number of protestors are still gathering in Sheung Wan area,” the force said in a statement.
“Police officers have proceeded with another round of dispersal operation and are moving their cordon lines from Shun Tak Centre on the west side and Harbour Building on the east side. Also, Police have set cordon lines on the roads on the south side.”
Public criticism of police is growing after they used tear gas in a heavily built-up residential area for the second day running, leaving families with children choking in nearby restaurants, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
But police hit back, saying that some protesters had set fire to a cart full of objects and shoved it at police lines.
“Some protestors committed arson at various locations … seriously threatening the safety of everyone at scene,” the force said. “Police condemn the protestors’ escalating violence and appeal to everyone at scene to stay calm.”
The statement said Sunday’s gathering was “unauthorized,” although a peaceful demonstration did take place in an authorized location earlier in the day.
The renewed clashes came after 13 people aged between 18 and 68 were arrested in earlier clashes in the New Territories town of Yuen Long on Saturday, which came after thousands gathered to protest police inaction over a triad-related attack on train passengers a week earlier.
The arrestees are being held on suspicion of illegal assembly, possession of offensive weapons, assaulting police, and assault.
A total of 24 people were reported injured as of Sunday morning by the Hospital Authority, with two of them in a serious condition and six in a stable condition. The remaining 16 people were discharged after treatment. Four police officers were among the injured.
Meanwhile, police have arrested Max Chung, the man whose application to hold a rally in Yuen Long was turned down on the grounds that it could pose a threat to public safety.
Chung was arrested on suspicion of “incitement to illegal assembly” after speaking on a radio show on Sunday.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.