Protesters have taken to the streets of Hong Kong for another round of mass anti-government demonstrations as political unrest continues to roil the city.
Less than 24 hours after violent clashes between protesters and police, thousands of residents marched in the town of Tseung Kwan O in Hong Kong’s New Territories on Sunday. Later, protesters streamed towards a separate rally in the Western district, close to China’s liaison office in the city, which has been a target of demonstrators.
The peaceful rally in Tseung Kwan O threatened to turn violent as a group of protesters threw bricks at a police station, some using makeshift slingshots, breaking the building’s windows. Others threw eggs and shone lasers into the station, blocked roads and dismantled street-side railings to build barricades. By early evening in the Western district, police had fired teargas at demonstrators near the liaison office.
Protesters clashed with police in several locations in Kowloon on Saturday night and the early hours of Sunday, as police fired teargas and pepper spray on crowds occupying main roads and areas outside police stations. On Sunday, police said 20 people had been arrested in connection with the protests, on suspicion of assault and having offensive weapons.
Hong Kong protesters start fire outside police station – video
This is the ninth week of consecutive protests in Hong Kong, as the semi-autonomous city faces a political crisis that has deepened as authorities have tried to suppress it. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has disappeared from public view over the last two weeks.
“I came to support Hong Kong. We are showing our guts to the government,” said Peter Tsang, 32 who attended the march in Tseung Kwan O. “A lot of people have come and they are stepping up because Carrie Lam has not come out of hiding.”
Why are people protesting?
The protests were triggered by a controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where the Communist party controls the courts, but have since evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement.
Public anger – fuelled by the aggressive tactics used by the police against demonstrators – has collided with years of frustration over worsening inequality and the cost of living in one of the world’s most expensive, densely populated cities.
The protest movement was given fresh impetus on 21 July when gangs of men attacked protesters and commuters at a mass transit station – while authorities seemingly did little to intervene.
Underlying the movement is a push for full democracy in the city, whose leader is chosen by a committee dominated by a pro-Beijing establishment rather than by direct elections.
Protesters have vowed to keep their movement going until their core demands are met, such as the resignation of the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, an independent inquiry into police tactics, an amnesty for those arrested and a permanent withdrawal of the bill.
Why were people so angry about the extradition bill?
Hongkongers have seen Beijing’s influence grow in recent years, as activists have been jailed and pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified from running or holding office. Independent booksellers have disappeared from the city, before reappearing in mainland China facing charges.
Under the terms of the agreement by which the former British colony was returned to Chinese control in 1997, the semi-autonomous region was meant to maintain a “high degree of autonomy” through an independent judiciary, a free press and an open market economy, a framework known as “one country, two systems”.
The extradition bill was seen as an attempt to undermine this and to give Beijing the ability to try pro-democracy activists under the judicial system of the mainland.
How have the authorities responded?
Lam has shown no sign of backing down beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition bill, while Beijing has issued increasingly shrill condemnations but has left it to the city’s semi-autonomous government to deal with the situation. Meanwhile police have violently clashed directly with protesters, repeatedly firing teargas and rubber bullets.
Beijing has ramped up its accusations that foreign countries are “fanning the fire” of unrest in the city. China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi has ordered the US to “immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any form”.
Lily Kuo and Verna Yu in Hong Kong
Protests, which began over an extradition bill to send suspects to China, have turned into a broader political movement demanding accountability from the Hong Kong government, which ultimately answers to Beijing. The former British colony, which reverted to Chinese control in 1997, is meant to enjoy a “high degree” of autonomy from the mainland as part of the “one country, two systems” framework.
The police have been criticised for what some say have been overly harsh tactics towards protesters, many of them students or recent graduates. In July, dozens of masked men dressed in white beat commuters with iron and wooden rods, shocking the Hong Kong public and eroding trust in the police, who did not stop the attack.
Anger at the police and the Hong Kong government has spread from the protesters to the general public, as thousands of residents have joined weekend rallies and protests.
A homemade slingshot is used to fire bricks at the Tseung Kwan O police station. Photograph: Vincent Thian/AP
On Sunday, residents were handing out vouchers, food and supplies to protesters. On Saturday night and the early hours of Sunday, residents in a working-class district surrounded police, demanding they release arrested protesters.
“At the beginning, we were alone. No one understood us,” said one demonstrator who asked not to give his name, adding that more people have been donating protective gear and supplies to the protests. “More people are coming out, which is better and there is more support.”
On Sunday, protesters held signs saying “shame on police” and unfurled banners calling for the full withdrawal of the extradition bill. Lam has said the bill is “dead” but has not permanently withdrawn it. Many demonstrators attending the rallies on Sunday chanted “Monday strike”, reminding citizens to join the city-wide demonstration.
The city had prepared for the possibility of further clashes. Water barriers were set up around China’s representative office and dozens of police vans and both uniformed and plainclothes police have been stationed outside it since Friday. Public libraries and other facilities in Hong Kong’s Central and Western districts closed early.
Some protesters stayed home, preparing for Monday’s mass strikes. Simultaneous rallies will take place in seven of Hong Kong’s 18 districts. Coffee shops and small businesses posted signs on their doors to say they would be closed on Monday. Workers from the transport sector have also pledged to stay home, potentially paralysing the city’s public transportation network.
As tensions in Hong Kong escalate, observers have been watching for signs of Beijing intervening. Chinese officials have not ruled out the possibility of deploying the People’s Liberation Army, which has a garrison in Hong Kong.
On Sunday, state media published several articles condemning protesters for throwing the Chinese flag into the sea. An editorial in the state news agency Xinhua said: “Whoever destroys ‘one country, two systems’ will bear the responsibility of history. The central government will not sit idly by and let this situation continue.”