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Five years after Occupy Central, street battles rage in Hong Kong

Hong Kong protests (Studio Incendo/WikiCommons)
September 30, 2019

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

Five years after the Chinese Communist Party’s decree ruling out democracy sparked the Occupy Central movement, black-clad protesters took on riot police in a series of pitched battles on the streets of Hong Kong.

Police apparently fired at least one round of live ammunition, according to video clips posted to social media, and were repeatedly pictured waving pistols at the crowd, while water cannon, beanbag bullets and tear gas were repeatedly deployed against protesters who had occupied main highways in downtown Hong Kong.

“Now Hong Kong is a genuine police state,” former pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law tweeted on Sunday.

“Undercover police are beating protesters and using firearms,” he wrote in a comment attached to a photo of a gun-wielding officer published in the Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper.

Law’s political party Demosisto said pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu had been pepper-sprayed in the face after he tried to plead with riot police not to use violence against protesters.

And Hong Kong Social Worker General Union leader Hui Lai-Ming was pushed to the ground and arrested as he was leaving the area in response to police warnings, the union said in a statement on Facebook.

Meanwhile, protesters built bonfires and threw Molotov cocktails at officers, retreating as police fought back with water cannon containing high levels of pepper spray and tear gas on normally bustling city streets.

The Mass Transit Rail Corp. shut down stations in Admiralty, near government headquarters, where protesters had earlier flung bricks and other projectiles.

Wanchai, Causeway Bay and Tin Hau stations were also closed after clashes broke out in those districts.

Riot police fired the first rounds of tear gas at 2.22 p.m. in Causeway Bay near the Sogo department store, as protesters gathered for a “global march against totalitarianism” that saw rallies in solidarity in a number of international cities.

Batons to the feet

At Causeway Bay station, large numbers of demonstrators were subdued on the ground, their hands tied with cable ties, while some officers used their batons to beat their feet.

One demonstrator was left twitching after a fall to the ground, and received first aid.

A journalist for an Indonesian publication suffered an eye injury while covering protests in Wanchai, after being hit by what was believed to be a rubber or beanbag bullet fired by police, who were chasing protesters across a pedestrian footbridge near Revenue Tower.

Government broadcaster RTHK said its reporters had also witnessed a series of attacks by special forces, known as the “raptors,” on people at the protest in Admiralty.

“RTHK reporters at the scene reported seeing around two dozen people subdued and arrested in Admiralty,” the station said. “Many of the detainees were forced to the ground with baton strikes by officers. Some were seen to be bleeding heavily.”

Later on Sunday, protesters also reportedly beat up two men in Wanchai and Causeway Bay districts, only breaking off with the intervention of the protest movement’s first aid squad, who took at least one of the men to safety.

Some protesters also smashed up a taxi using rods to break the shield, headlights, and other parts of the vehicle, forcing open the bonnet after the taxi reportedly menaced a group of journalists.

Journalists were also attacked with pepper spray and water cannon in clashes since Saturday, social media footage showed.

Saturday’s demonstration, which had police approval, saw protesters burn the flag of the ruling Chinese Communist Party rather than the national flag of China, following a singing rally in downtown Tamar Park to mark the fifth anniversary of the 2014 pro-democracy movement, which ended without achieving its demand for fully democratic elections.

Chipping away at rights

Sunday’s street battles came as Chinese president Xi Jinping presented the former leader of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-hwa, with an honorary title ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Tung, who stepped down without finishing his second term in office in 2003 after half a million people marched to protest subversion and sedition legislation ordered by Beijing, was awarded a medal by Xi for his “outstanding contribution to the One Country and Two Systems principle,” under which Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms after the 1997 handover.

London-based rights group Amnesty International has called the response of the Hong Kong police force to the protesters’ civil disobedience and political vandalism “outrageous” and “repressive.”

The group said that while an independent and effective investigation into police actions would be a vital first step to resolving the standoff, the protests came after a “steady erosion” of rights and freedoms in the city long before Lam put forward plans to allow extradition to mainland China.

It said both the Hong Kong government and the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing had been chipping away at the traditional rights and freedoms that Hong Kong was promised for years.

Protests that erupted in June in Hong Kong against plans by the city’s government to allow extradition to mainland China have grown into a broader movement, even after Lam pledged to scrap the plan by withdrawing the planned legislation.

The protesters’ five key demands are: the formal withdrawal of planned amendments to extradition laws; an amnesty for arrested protesters; an end to the description of protesters as rioters; an independent inquiry into police abuse of power; and fully democratic elections.