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Protests, clashes continue in Hong Kong after mass masked protest march

Hong Kong protest Tsuen Wan district (Studio Incendo/WikiCommons)
October 14, 2019

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

Thousands of masked demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong for the second weekend in a row in protest at the use of colonial-era emergency legislation, while police began harrassing non-protesting crowds in busy areas following overnight clashes on Sunday.

Riot police charged into the Popcorn shopping mall in Tsuen Kwan O distict on Sunday, arresting and pinning to the ground several shoppers dressed in ordinary casual clothing.

The raid came after masked protesters sat on the floor in the mall, folding paper cranes as a symbol of the protest movement. Similar gatherings took place in Taikoo’s Cityplaza, New Town Plaza in Shatin on the waterfront at Tsimshatsui, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

Squads of riot police also marched up and down the busy shopping street and major highway of Nathan Road, randomly stopping journalists and demanding to see identification, and stopping traffic with no obvious reason, according to live video feeds from RTHK and the Apple Daily newspaper.

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Protesters faced off with riot police in Tsuen Wan and Mong Kok, putting up barricades and blocking streets. They also burned a Chinese national flag in Wong Tai Sin, RTHK said.

During a night of thunderstormss, protesters climbed the city’s iconic Lion Rock, where they placed a three-meter statue of a female frontline protester clad in gas mask, helmet, umbrella and goggles, symbolizing democracy.

The statue carries a black banner that reads “Free Hong Kong! Revolution in our time!”

Sunday’s protests and clashes continued after thousands of people marched through Kowloon on Saturday, chanting “Hong Kong people, resist!” and “We have the right to wear masks!”

As they passed Tsimshatsui Police Station, many shouted insults or raised their middle finger, as armed police officers watched them warily from a balcony.

‘Chinazi’

One officer shouted through a megaphone: “This is an illegal gathering. Please leave immediately, or it will be dispersed by force.”

Some protesters spray-painted the word “Chinazi,” that has come to symbolize resistance to the authoritarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party, as pro-democracy and anti-extradition protests entered their fifth month.

A protester surnamed Tsang, whose two young sons marched alongside her wearing masks, said she was protesting on behalf of the next generation, who would likely be living with much less freedom than her generation had enjoyed.

Protesters are demanding the formal withdrawal of legislation that would allow extradition to mainland China, an amnesty for thousands of people arrested during the movement, the withdrawal of the official term ‘rioting’ to describe the protest movement, an independent inquiry into police violence against protesters, and fully democratic elections to the Legislative Council and for the post of chief executive.

While chief executive Carrie Lam has pledged to formally withdraw the extradition law, she has stopped short of ordering an independent public inquiry, a move many feel would go a long way to defusing growing public anger at her administration, and the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.

In recent days, protesters have also begun calling for the current Hong Kong police force to be disbanded, particularly after widespread reports of the sexual abuse and torture of detainees at the hands of police have been publicly dismissed by senior officers.

On Saturday, black-clad frontline protesters vandalized government offices in Kowloon, breaking glass, spraying graffiti, and causing a water leakage that left high-pressure water spraying across the sidewalk.

A protester surnamed Chan, who volunteers to protect young people from police violence at the front line, said his son was also marching, and that he would continue to support the movement.

Chan said he doesn’t personally support the roadblocks, destruction of public facilities such as Mass Transit Railway (MTR) stations and China-linked enterprises that has become a feature of the protest movement, but that he would continue to support the movement to protect younger people.

‘Political and criminal responsibility’

He said Lam should step down and not be allowed to leave Hong Kong after she had resigned. Chan also called for an independent commission of inquiry, not just into violent law enforcement, but also into “the political and criminal responsibility of Carrie Lam.”

He said Lam had deliberately sought to incite public anger with her use of the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to ban masks, and that he didn’t understand why Beijing didn’t let her resign.

Protesters lit fires outside Cheung Sha Wan Government Offices and broke its security shutters on Saturday, while the Hong Kong Police Force posted photos of Molotov cocktails being thrown at Kowloon Tong MTR station.

The MTR has become a target of public anger over repeated station shutdowns that have have amounted to an unofficial curfew in a city where a large proportion of the seven million residents rely on public transport to get around.

Police have meanwhile continued to use MTR stations as safe haven, sheltering behind the security shutters and using special trains laid on by the MTR to ferry forces and equipment around the city.

The MTR on Sunday shut subway stations at City One, Mong Kok, Kwai Fong, Kwai Hing, Kwun Tong, Shatin, Shatin Wai, Tsuen Wan, Tsuen Wan West, and Tseung Kwan O.

It said the closures were “because of an escalation of the situation at stations [and] to ensure the safety of passengers and our staff.”

The Light Rail service was suspended, while the Airport Express service only stopped at the airport and downtown Hong Kong Stations, missing out intervening stops entirely, the MTR said in a statement on its website.

“More stations might close without further notice,” it said.