Hong Kong Protesters Defy Beijing Warnings, as Police Fire Tear Gas


HONG KONG — Defying warnings from China of a crackdown if they continued more than two months of protests, young demonstrators blocked a vital tunnel under Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor on Saturday, barricaded a traffic intersection and set fires outside a police station in a shopping district popular with tourists.The Hong Kong police force said in a statement that the fires in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of the city posed “a serious threat to the safety of everyone at the scene.”Police officers fired tear gas in several locations as a day that began with a show of peaceful defiance outside the headquarters of China’s military garrison descended into an evening of clashes, panic and widespread disruption.Thousands of activists continued a sit-in at Hong Kong’s international airport, one of the world’s busiest air-travel hubs, on the second day of what they said would be a three-day occupation. The airport demonstration, unlike scattered and often-chaotic protests on the Kowloon Peninsula on Saturday evening, has so far been peaceful.Stores along Nathan Road, normally crowded with evening shoppers and tourists, closed their doors as the police moved into the area, charging into passers-by caught up in a melee that was shrouded in clouds of tear gas.Amy Havart, a 32-year-old Hong Kong resident, said she had been leaving a hotel on Nathan Road after drinks with friends when hotel staff members “told us that the police are dropping tear gas outside; we don’t know what is happening at all.”She said she could not see any protesters or acts of violence so could not understand why there were so many police officers.“We are all just here trying to have some fun tonight. So why are the police here?” she asked. “I don’t know what is happening to this city. This is just heartbreaking to see.”[What’s going on in Hong Kong? Here’s how the protests have evolved.]Assailed for days by China’s propaganda machine as violent thugs who must be stopped, Hong Kong’s protest movement — a largely leaderless jumble of groups and causes — started the day with a display of what activists say was their peaceful intent. Several thousand people marched in an orderly procession past China’s military headquarters in the former British colony.That protest march in Central District, billed by organizers as a “family friendly” event, featured parents, baby strollers and children with balloons, and avoided incendiary slogans about “retaking Hong Kong” that have angered China’s governing Communist Party.“Xi Jinping should come and take a look at us here, now, and then say whether we are hooligans,” said Ina Wong, a 34-year-old designer, referring to China’s hard-line leader. Ms. Wong took part in the rally along with her husband, a civil servant, and their 2-year-old son.But the mood turned grimmer as darkness fell and the Kowloon Peninsula, across Victoria Harbor, became the focus for a new round of protests, which, unlike the morning rally in Central, had not been authorized by the police.The number of protesters was far below the huge demonstrations last month, and Saturday evening’s events in Kowloon were driven largely by groups of a few hundred activists who roamed from area to area in an effort to avoid arrest for participation in an unauthorized gathering. After one group blocked a tunnel under the harbor from Kowloon to Central in the early evening, a different group occupied the entrance to the Lion Rock Tunnel, under a mountain in Kowloon.The blocking of roads and tunnels recalled some of the disarray that convulsed Hong Kong on Monday, when a wave of protest rallies and strikes bought much of the city to a standstill, with the police and demonstrators clashing in several areas. Monday’s unrest prompted a barrage of warnings from the Communist Party in Beijing and its allies in Hong Kong that further unrest would not be tolerated.On Saturday, party-controlled newspapers in Hong Kong published what they said was an open letter signed by more than 700 patriotic residents voicing support for the city’s police, whom protesters have accused of brutality, and demanding that the local government “swiftly stop this chaotic situation.”The letter, and a series of small counterprotests in support of the government, followed a demand this past week from Beijing’s top official responsible for Hong Kong that China’s supporters there speak out against the protest movement and mobilize to resist any concessions to its demands.Those demands include the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, as well as an independent inquiry into the police’s conduct and the full withdrawal of the extradition bill that sparked the protests.China’s characterization of the Hong Kong protests as “turmoil” — the word it used to describe protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 — has fueled rumors that another crackdown was being planned. But few expect China to send in the People’s Liberation Army, as it did to crush the student-led Tiananmen movement 30 years ago.Watched by a lone Chinese soldier with an assault rifle guarding the gate to China’s military compound in Central, the morning protesters marched without incident past the garrison, shouting, “Go Hong Kong! Go Hong Kong! Fathers and mothers please preserve our future!”They ended their parade outside the offices of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, a body that helped to spur the protest movement by moving in June to adopt legislation that would allow extradition to mainland China. Mrs. Lam, the chief executive, has since suspended the bill, but she has resisted demands that it be formally withdrawn.Many in Hong Kong are not willing to accept Mrs. Lam’s assurances that the bill is “dead.”“People don’t trust the government. This is the main problem,” said Ken Lin, an unemployed 39-year-old office worker who helped organize the Saturday march. “The government only obeys Beijing, not what the people of Hong Kong want.”

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