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Hong Kong police hit back after angry crowds surround police stations, occupy roads, block tunnel

Protesters attempt to use sand bags to block the road to slow down the police's advance towards them on Sunday, July 21, 2019 in Hong Kong. (Geovien So/SOPA Images/Zuma Press/TNS)
August 05, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Hong Kong continued to be rocked by “wildcat” anti-extradition and anti-police protests across the city all weekend, ahead of a general strike planned for Monday.

Police repeatedly fired tear gas and pepper spray at crowds of protesters who surrounded police stations, gathered near Beijing’s Central Liaison Office in Western district, and blocked a cross-harbor tunnel, a key bottleneck in the city’s road infrastructure.

In Tseung Kwan O, black-clad protesters in the now-iconic construction helmets and masks fired brick fragments using a makeshift catapult, shattering multiple windows in the Tseung Kwan O police station, while others hurled eggs at the building.

The protests also drew a new kind of crowd this weekend; local residents who came out to shout insults and hurl umbrellas at riot police and chant slogans demanding that they leave.

Standoffs between local residents and police lasted well into both Saturday and Sunday nights, as local residents didn’t need to catch the last train out of their own neighborhood, as the self-organizing anti-extradition protesters typically do.

Street battles broke out in Western, Tseung Kwan O, Kwun Tong, and Causeway Bay, where protesters upended metal traffic railings to make barricades and set fire to trash bins and street debris, making a haze of black smoke in the streets of the normally busy shopping district and causing traffic jams.

Protesters then took the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) to Wong Tai Sin, where police fired tear gas on an angry crowd, some of whom later decamped to a major highway near the container port of Kwun Tong, where they blocked a major road in the middle of the night.

Large numbers of arrests

A protester surnamed Yip at the Western protest site said the police are continuing to make large numbers of arrests.

“They are arresting people left and right,” Yip said, calling on more people to join civil servants and other industry sector trade unions in a general strike on Monday.

“I think more people in the community should show their support,” Yip said. “The government needs to respond first to the five demands, and we hope that will lead to political reform.”

Protesters are calling on the government to meet five main demands: to formally withdraw proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance that would allow extradition to mainland China; to grant an amnesty for all arrested protesters; to withdraw official accusations of rioting; to set up an independent inquiry into police behavior during the crisis; and fully democratic elections.

An older woman in the crowd said she had come to support the students and young people in their civil disobedience campaign, which has been escalating since June 6.

“I think that everything cuts both ways, and the interaction between the government and protesters has led to young people [becoming more radical],” she said.

“This is something that both sides need to think about: it’s not just unilateral.”

Police said Tseung Kwan O police station was surrounded by a large group of protesters “hurling bamboo sticks, bricks, glass bottles, and miscellaneous objects into the building, causing damages and threatening the safety of everyone at scene.”

Journalists assaulted

Journalists covering the protests in Kowloon on Saturday night said they had been pushed to the ground by police, who also used pepper spray and tear-gas on them at close range, according to video footage posted to social media.

The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) called for the withdrawal of the amendments to the extradition bill, and hit out at ongoing violence against journalists by police.

“Over weeks of continuous demonstrations, police officers often targeted journalists who had clearly identified themselves as members of the press,” the group said in a statement. “Time and again, officers obstructed, used violence and even teargas against journalists reporting onsite.”

“On various different occasions, officers chased after and beat up reporters. The situation is becoming more and more intense,” it said, throwing its support behind Monday’s strike.

Protesters blocked the Cross-Harbour Tunnel in Kowloon on Saturday night, and on Hong Kong Island on Sunday night, setting up barricades and blocking traffic in all directions, although rescue vehicles were allowed through.

The civil disobedience action ended after riot police brandishing guns chased the protesters away, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

Police said they had arrested more than 20 people in connection with the protests on suspicion of illegal assembly, possession of offensive weapons, and assault during protests in Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok, and Wong Tai Sin on Saturday.

‘Illegal, violent’

Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu said the police had exercised restraint after protesters blocked a number of thoroughfares and surrounded police stations in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok and, as well as staff quarters in Wong Tai Sin.

The government issued a statement calling the protests “illegal and violent.”

“The deteriorating situation yesterday once again underlines that violent and illegal protests are spreading, pushing Hong Kong to the verge of a very dangerous situation,” the statement said.

“We appeal to all members of the public to say no to violence in order to restore order in society as soon as possible.”

On Saturday, a large demonstration in Mong Kok marched down Nathan Road chanting “Go Hongkongers!”

“I can’t see how we can have any prospects,” a protester surnamed Lam who was marching with his one-year-old daughter, told RFA. “I feel as if all aspects of our freedoms will be suppressed.”

“All I can do is vote with my feet and come out onto the streets, because I feel as if I have to stand up for the next generation,” he said.

A protester surnamed Leung said there is widespread public anger over police use of violence to curb recent protests.

“The public can see everything, and they can see that the police are acting unfairly in enforcing the law,” Leung said. “I can’t do anything except hold up a placard calling for an independent inquiry.”

Reported by Lau Siu-fung, Man Hoi-tsan and Wen Yuqing for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Lu Xi and Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.