Hong Kong protests bring chaos to city’s shopping districts

Police use teargas and rubber bullets as activists hurl bricks and molotov cocktails

Sun 29 Sep, 2019 by https://www.theguardian.com

Some of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping districts have descended into chaos after police used teargas, rubber bullets, pepper spray and water cannon against protesters.

Activists hurled bricks and petrol bombs back at the police and started street fires on Sunday as demonstrations entered their 17th week in the city’s most serious political crisis in decades.

The protest, which was not sanctioned, was scheduled to start at 3pm local time (0800 BST) in the Causeway Bay shopping district, but dozens of riot police began guarding the area hours before. They stopped and searched a number of young people dressed in black.

The crowds chanted “Black cop! Black cop!” as they saw riot police. At about 2.20pm, before the march was due to start, officers fired several rounds of teargas at crowds congregating in front of the Sogo department store. Police had earlier subdued several protesters and angered the crowds.

 A protester throws a molotov cocktail during the unrest in Causeway Bay. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Protesters targeted by teargas ran in panic, but many began marching along the scheduled route towards Admiralty, a business district where the government headquarters is located.

Some protesters regrouped outside the headquarters and threw bricks and petrol bombs at officers. Riot police later fired rounds of teargas at protesters outside an upmarket shopping centre in Admiralty and near the government headquarters. They also used water cannon to spray protesters with water mixed with blue dye and stinging chemicals.Advertisement

Dozens of protesters were arrested after being chased by police, with many tackled to the ground and some left bleeding heavily. A number of protesters were also made to line up against the wall on the main road.

As activists retreated from Admiralty, some made makeshift barricades and set them ablaze. Street fires were also started in the Wan Chai district in an attempt to stop the police from approaching.

 Riot police outside Wan Chai station. Photograph: Vincent Yu/AP

Some protesters later threw petrol bombs at police who had entered the Wan Chai metro station, the public broadcaster RTHK reported. It also said undercover police wearing black clothing typical of protesters were seen retreating into the station with the help of uniformed officers. Police have admitted sending officers disguised as protesters to carry out operations during demonstrations.

A young man in full protective gear said: “I don’t want violence either, but the authorities are using hardline measures against us, so I’m fighting against them with my life.”

After dark, more hostile clashes took place and police again fired multiple rounds of teargas. Large groups of riot police encroached on a diminishing group of protesters in Causeway Bay after a water cannon put out fires.

Dozens of protesters marched towards a large group of riot police, prompting officers to deploy teargas.

Later in the evening, police left the scene in vans as protesters jeered at them. Some activists threw sticks and bricks and a police vehicle stopped to fire two rounds of teargas. More teargas was fired late at night in Wan Chai, local media reported.

Protesters take cover using umbrellas as police use teargas. Photograph: Vincent Thian/AP

Earlier in the day, helicopters had hovered above the protest areas as demonstrators opened their umbrellas, saying they feared an unknown liquid was being sprayed at them.

A number of middle-aged people said they were there to protect young people despite the increasingly violent protests in recent weeks.

“These kids feel hopeless and they’re willing to give their lives even – they need us to protect them,” said Vanita Chan, 55, who said she had bought supplies such as saline, goggles and raincoats to hand out to protesters.

A woman identified only as Mrs Lau, 56, said: “If we don’t speak up now there won’t be another opportunity, the Hong Kong and Chinese governments are cracking down on us already.

“We don’t want our next generation to lose our freedoms. We don’t accept one country, one system.” This was a reference to China’s agreement to give Hong Kong semi-autonomy – “one country, two systems” – after taking control of the city back from the UK in 1997.

Many shops in the area closed. Protesters spray-painted a closed Starbucks cafe in Wan Chai with messages calling on people to boycott it. The company that runs the cafe chain in Hong Kong is seen by protesters as being pro-Beijing.

Young protesters wearing black were digging up paving stones at a crossroads in Wan Chai while others smashed glass panels at a metro exit of Wan Chai station, which has been closed. The outer walls of the exit were also spray-painted with anti-police messages and “Free HK”, “Reclaim HK, revolution of our era”.

 Protesters dug up paving stones in Wan Chai. Photograph: Verna Yu /The Guardian

Protesters are angry that in past weeks, the metro company has allowed police to go into the station to beat protesters and close it during protests, but has provided carriages to transport riot police officers.

Hong Kong has been gripped by a wave of protests since June, sparked by a controversial extradition bill, but the movement has become increasingly violent as animosity has grown between protesters and police.

Hong Kong is bracing for consecutive days of protests and clashes, culminating with anti-government demonstrations on Tuesday to coincide with China’s National Day, marking 70 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.