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Police fire water cannons, tear gas after Hong Kong protesters occupy major roads despite warning

Hong Kong protests (Tango Chan/WikiCommons)

Parts of Hong Kong on Saturday (Aug 31) again descended into chaos as police fired water cannons and rounds of tear gas during pitched street battles after protesters defied a ban and took to the streets, occupying major roads in several areas.

The police said they fired shots into the air twice Saturday night to protect at-risk colleagues.

Yolanda Yu, a police senior superintendent, said at a briefing early Sunday (Sept 1) morning that the shots were fired minutes apart shortly after 9pm local time, Bloomberg reported.

“There were serious threats to their lives,” Yu said. The gunshots were fired after repeated warnings to demonstrators, she added.

Hundreds had surrounded the government headquarters and the legislature in Admiralty, pelting eggs at officers who stood guard behind giant water barriers. Some started breaking the glass of a security booth as others tried to pry open metal gates leading into the building.

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Shortly before 5.20pm, police had used pepper spray on protesters who threw eggs at officers before officers on elevated platforms fired several rounds of tear gas. This pushed protesters back onto Harcourt Road, a main thoroughfare in the area, where they regrouped behind plastic barricades.

They later started small fires close to the police officers, who responded by volleying more rounds of tear smoke and deployed the water cannon which shot streams of water, several rounds containing a blue dye.

Overhead, at least two helicopters with Government Flying Service livery hovered as protesters shone powerful laser beams at the aircraft.

Protesters also flung flaming projectiles into the compound of the People’s Liberation Army garrison, right next to government headquarters. As riot police marched down Harcourt Road to disperse the crowd, a group threw Molotov cocktails at them from a flyover.

By about 7pm, most had left Admiralty and regrouped in Wan Chai, close to police headquarters, where they piled various objects, forming a giant barricade on Hennessy Road which they torched. Protesters also added a metal bleacher to the pile, believed to have been appropriated from the nearby Southorn Playground.

Covering at least three lanes of Hennessy Road, thick black smoke billowed as protesters continued tossing various objects into the raging flames. Firefighters later showed up to put out the blaze, clearing the way for riot police.

As police pushed protesters down Hennessy Road, some threw petrol bombs at officers to impede their advance, to which police responded with tear gas and bursts of water from the cannons.

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Close to 9pm, a small group of protesters barricaded parts of Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, the popular tourist district on the other side of Victoria Harbour, bringing traffic to a virtual standstill. Shops quickly pulled down their shutters, while curious passersby continued walking around and taking pictures.

Protesters later moved northwards to Mong Kok and Kwun Tong, prompting riot police to chase protesters into the Mong Kok metro station. The rail operator said trains would not be stopping at affected stations.

Earlier in the day, demonstrators flooded roads in the popular Causeway Bay shopping district, the civic district in Admiralty, Wan Chai and the Central business district, as police issued several warnings for the crowd to disperse.

Armed with umbrellas against the muggy weather, tens of thousands marched on the roads with no clear destination, shouting slogans including “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong”. Small pockets of protesters built makeshift barricades in parts of the city, a bid to disrupt traffic, before quickly dispersing.

Police had on Thursday rejected the application for a march to Beijing’s liaison office in the city, citing safety reasons, but tens of thousands went ahead and took to the streets, the 13th consecutive weekend of demonstrations since mass protests against a controversial extradition Bill escalated in June.

Security in the city has been ramped up this weekend, with huge water-filled barricades set up around the buildings next to Beijing’s liaison office in Sai Ying Pun and other government buildings – a previous target of some hardcore protesters. Roads in the area have been blocked to cut off access to the office.

The police’s new anti-riot water cannons, which were deployed for the first time in Tsuen Wan last Sunday, were also spotted in the area.

Subway operator MTR said trains would not stop at Sai Ying Pun station from 1.30pm, while sections of roads on Hong Kong Island had been closed, with tram services suspended.

Chief transport officer Lai Chui-ying said the exit of the Cross Harbour Tunnel had been temporarily blocked at the request of the police. She said Des Voeux Road West was blocked by large water-filled barriers in both directions, although the Transport Department had not been notified of this in advance. Bus routes were diverted, RTHK said.

In an alert to residents in the city, police on Saturday morning warned the public of “severe disruptions” ahead of a “public event this afternoon”.

Fresh calls on Saturday morning circulating via messaging app Telegram urged netizens to assemble in Causeway Bay at 2pm.

This followed calls circulated on social media on Friday for people to join a Christian gathering at Wan Chai and to march to Central and Upper Albert Road, where Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s official residence is located. The group was thwarted by armed police who stopped them from accessing the road.

By 1pm, thousands gathered at Southorn Playground in Wan Chai chanting “Hong Kong, gah yau”, or “Hong Kong, keep it up”, as they started marching despite police warnings against unauthorized protests.

Police issued a warning to a group occupying part of Hennessy Road, asking them to leave immediately.

A local who only wanted to be known as Mr K. Fung, told The Straits Times that he was there to help out in whatever way he could, be it to direct traffic or to help when the triads come and bother people.

The 39-year-old odd-job laborer stressed that the government has “gotten it wrong if it thinks this is an issue that concerns the younger people”.

“This (political crisis) concerns all of us in Hong Kong,” he said.

Asked if he was afraid of getting arrested, Mr Fung said that in Hong Kong, there are now two things that people fear: triads and some police officers.

On Friday night, police warned that “according to the Public Order Ordinance, it is not necessary to notify the police for conducting public meeting for religious purpose”.

“However, anyone who plans to organise a public procession for religious purpose with more than 30 participants, he or she still needs to notify the police in accordance with Section 13 of the Public Order Ordinance,” the statement added.

The warning came after a wave of arrests made ahead of Aug 31, the fifth anniversary of Beijing’s announcement of a political reform framework that stated there must be screening for the Chief Executive elections in the city, but this was eventually rejected by the Legislative Council.

The move resulted in the Umbrella movement that lasted 79 days, during which key roads in the city center were occupied.

Pro-independence party Demosisto’s founder and secretary-general Joshua Wong and core member Agnes Chow were arrested by the police on Friday morning.

Both face charges of taking part in a June 21 unauthorised demonstration outside Wan Chai police station and inciting others to join it. Wong, a founder of the pro-self determination party, faces a further charge of organising the illegal demonstration.

The two, out on bail of HK$10,000 (S$1,800) each and under curfew, will have their case heard on Nov 8.

Wong was released from prison in mid-June after he served a two-month sentence for his role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protest.

Another Demosisto member Ivan Lam, who left the city on Wednesday, faces a count of incitement.

Others detained included former University of Hong Kong student union president Althea Suen, Sha Tin district Councillor Rick Hui and Civic Passion lawmaker Cheng Chung Tai.

Late on Friday night, news broke that lawmakers Au Nok Hin and Jeremy Tam were also arrested. Mr Au is accused of assaulting police by speaking loudly through a loudhailer.

Ahead of the fresh protests expected this weekend, subway operator MTR got a court injunction against anyone interfering with train operations, damaging property or causing disturbances.

A two-day strike from Monday has been planned – the second such call after Aug 5, when protests were held in multiple districts and later turned violent and chaotic.

Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific has warned employees they risk getting fired if they join the strike, Bloomberg reported.

Police have banned a planned rally in Tsim Sha Tsui on Monday that was to have coincided with the launch of the strike, saying it would severely endanger public safety.

The Airport Authority on Friday took out advertisements in major newspapers, urging people planning to fly out of the city on Sunday to arrive at the airport early, in the light of online calls for protesters to disrupt public transport that day. It warned that there could be delays and passengers should keep an eye on the latest developments.

Calls to jam the public transportation networks headed towards the airport on Sunday have been circulating.

South China Morning Post reported that Hong Kong airport is prepared to cut the number of arriving and departing flights in response to plans by protesters to create a gridlock in the road and rail infrastructure serving the airport on Sunday and Monday.

A China Daily editorial on Friday said Chinese soldiers stationed in Hong Kong have “no reason to sit on their hands” if the situation worsens.

The protests that have spanned five months, were sparked after the government mooted a controversial Bill – now suspended – that would allow the authorities to extradite people to jurisdictions which Hong Kong has no formal extradition agreements with, including mainland China.

But the protests have since morphed into a broader movement seeking universal suffrage and an independent probe into alleged police brutality.

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© 2019 the Asia News Network