Protest chaos grips Hong Kong

Hong Kong police arrested 36 people, the youngest aged 12, after violence during anti-government demonstrations escalated as protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at security forces who responded with water cannon and tear gas.

Sunday's protests saw some of the fiercest clashes yet between police and demonstrators since violence escalated in mid-June over a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

Police fired water cannon and volleys of tear gas in running battles with brick-throwing protesters on Sunday, the second day of violent clashes in the Chinese-ruled city.

Six officers drew their pistols and one officer fired a warning shot into the air, police said in a statement.

"The escalating illegal and violent acts of radical protesters are not only outrageous, they also push Hong Kong to the verge of a very dangerous situation," the government said in a statement.

Protesters once again adopted cat-and-mouse tactics late in the evening, moving swiftly to locations across the former British colony, where they set up barricades to block some roads, following a largely peaceful rally earlier in the day.

Police said they arrested 29 men and seven women, aged 12 to 48, for offences including unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons and assaulting police officers.

There was a sense of chaos across swathes of the Kowloon peninsula, over the harbour from the main island of Hong Kong, with police sirens blaring, tear gas wafting throughout densely populated areas and running clashes on the streets.

The clashes on Saturday and Sunday marked a return to unrest after days of calmer demonstrations. The protests, which escalated in June over a now-suspended extradition bill, have rocked Hong Kong for three months, occasionally causing serious disruption including forcing the closure of the airport.

The city, a major Asian financial centre, is facing its biggest political crisis since the handover of power from British rule in 1997.

Protesters say they are fighting the erosion of the "one country, two systems" arrangement under which Hong Kong returned to China with the promise of continued freedoms, not enjoyed on the mainland, for 50 years. 

Anti-extradition bill protesters face police on Sunday. Photo: Reuters
Anti-extradition bill protesters face police on Sunday. Photo: Reuters
SMASHED TOLL BOOTHS

Traffic was blocked on Nathan Road, which heads south to the key harbourside tourist area of Tsim Sha Tsui on Sunday. Protesters temporarily blocked off the northern Kowloon-side end of the oldest harbour tunnel, smashing toll booths.

Police in Tsuen Wan had warned earlier they would launch a "dispersal operation" and told people to leave.

Hundreds of protesters remained long after nightfall, discussing what to do next, surrounded by empty tear gas canisters, bricks, metal railings and other debris.

Some "radical protesters" removed railings and set up barricades with water-filled barriers, bamboo scaffolding, traffic cones and other objects, police said in a statement.

"Such acts neglect the safety of citizens and road users, paralysing traffic in the vicinity," they said.

One policeman fired a pistol shot into the air, police told media. There was no response from the police on whether it was a live round.

Activists threw petrol bombs and bricks on Saturday in the gritty industrial district of Kwun Tong, on the east of the Kowloon peninsula.

'LAST CHANCE'

M. Sung, a 53-year-old software engineer in a black mask like many of the older, middle-class citizens at the march earlier on Sunday afternoon, said he had been at almost every protest and would keep coming.

"We know this is the last chance to fight for 'one country, two systems', otherwise the Chinese Communist Party will penetrate our home city and control everything," he said.

"If we keep a strong mind, we can sustain this movement for justice and democracy. It won’t die," Sung said.

Police said they strongly condemned protesters "breaching public peace" and that 19 men and 10 women had been arrested after Saturday's violence.

More than 700 have been arrested since the demonstrations began in June.

The protests pose a direct challenge for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, who are eager to quell the unrest ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1.

Beijing has sent a clear warning that forceful intervention is possible, with paramilitary forces holding drills just over the border.

The neighbouring gambling territory of Macau, a former Portuguese colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1999, elected former legislature head Ho Iat Seng as its leader on Sunday - the sole approved candidate.

Ho, who has deep ties to China, is expected to cement Beijing's control over the "special administrative region", the same status given to Hong Kong, and distance it from the unrest there. 

 

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