Hong Kong police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters after fresh clashes during a city-wide strike which caused transport chaos across the city.
More than 27,000 people were due to participate in the strike, according to organisers, as thousands of demonstrators fanned out across seven districts and some groups besieged police stations.
Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam warned that the city is on the verge of an “extremely dangerous situation” that challenged China’s sovereignty as activists increased the pressure on the government to meet their demands.
Some events saw peaceful sit-ins while others quickly escalated as protesters threw rocks and constructed barricades to prevent riot police from moving forward. A police spokeswoman said 82 people were arrested at 5.30pm, the largest number in a single day since protests began on 9 June, with protests expected to continue late into the night. At least 420 people have been arrested in total since the protests began, though not all have been charged, and police have fired 1,000 rounds of tear gas and about 160 rubber bullets.
Earlier, speaking to the media for the first time in two weeks, Ms Lam remained defiant as she rejected calls from protesters demanding her resignation, saying the protests are damaging Hong Kong’s economy.
“Such extensive disruptions in the name of certain demands or uncooperative movement have seriously undermined Hong Kong law and order and are pushing our city, the city we all love, and many of us helped to build, to the verge of a very dangerous situation,” she said.
“They claim they want a revolution and to restore Hong Kong. These actions have far exceeded their original political demands,” she added.
For nine consecutive weeks Hong Kong has seen mass demonstrations triggered earlier this summer by a legislative bill that residents feared would trample their civil and political rights.
The clashes on Monday mark a continuation of violence seen over the course of the weekend, as well as an emerging protest tactic of holding simultaneous demonstrations to keep police at bay.
At a peaceful protest near government headquarters on Hong Kong island, residents said they were angry at how the government has handled nine consecutive weeks of disruption.
Mike Ng, an employee of a non-profit organisation, said he was dismayed at Ms Lam’s inability to respond to both protest demands and chastise increasingly violent police tactics.
Ms Lam has largely blamed protesters for the clashes, who she characterised as largely violent and using ongoing discontent to “conceal their ulterior motives”.
Mr Ng alleged that Hong Kong’s leader had turned a “blind eye to abuse of power from the Hong Kong police” including widely shared videos of officers beating protesters while in other cases riot police have been seen to remove ID numbers form their uniforms to avoid being identified later by the public. Ms Lam said she would be resolute in maintaining law and order.
Connie Fung, a finance worker who also attended the demonstration, said she was upset that the violent tactics of some had overshadowed the majority of protesters, who have been demonstrating peacefully.
“We don’t agree with what the government is saying. They are only showing the bad side of protesters. It’s fair there are protesters using violence to express their opinions but that’s not the whole part of the story,” Ms Fung said.
“Not all of them are using violence. It’s not fair what the government is presenting and they are not responding publicly to what we are asking for,” she added. “We are asking for [the] complete removal of the extradition law, which the government refuses to do.”
In a sign that not all residents support protests, two vehicles rammed protest barricades in two districts, in apparent defiance of demonstrations, according to videos shared on social media. Protesters have previously been attacked in outlying districts, including last month in Yuen Long, where protesters were attacked by men believed to be linked to Hong Kong’s triads.
The piece of legislation that sparked the protests would have allowed for the city to extradite suspected criminals to China. While the former British colony returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, it was allowed to keep its highly regarded and independent legal system, along with semi-autonomy, until 2047.
Ms Lam championed the bill as necessary to close legal “loopholes” but unwittingly ignited the largest mass demonstrations in Hong Kong since 2014’s pro-democracy protests.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been drawn to the streets even as police continue to escalate tactics, from tear gas to pepper spray and rubber bullets, with indications that water cannons will soon be deployed.
Earlier on Monday, hundreds of flights were cancelled or severely delayed at Hong Kong International Airport.
An estimated 250 ground crew and 1,216 cabin crew of Cathay Pacific, the city’s flagship airline, went on strike, the group Save Hong Kong said.
Trains were also brought to a standstill across the city early on Monday morning as protesters prevented them from moving forward, with a number of train staff expected to take a sick day or annual leave to participate in the strike.
Source: The Independent