After a violent night, Hong Kong braces for more protests on Sunday

People gather at a public park ahead of a planned demonstration in Hong Kong, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 | Photo: AP/PTI
Hong Kong mopped up after a night of violent clashes between protesters and police, with at least 20 people arrested and two more demonstrations planned for Sunday as unrest takes hold in the city.

On Saturday, thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in Kowloon, where police used tear gas to try to disperse crowds and re-open blocked roads. Police stations came under attack as demonstrators hurled projectiles at them.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary on Sunday that the central government would not sit back and let the situation continue.

The protest movement that began as weekend marches has shifted form and become a part of daily life, with disquiet growing in the Asian financial hub. Dozens of people appeared in court last week on a colonial-era rioting charge that carries a 10-year prison term — signaling the city’s Beijing-backed government is heeding calls for a stronger response, bolstered by support from Chinese authorities.

Demonstrations began nearly nine weeks ago over opposition to legislation easing extraditions to China, and demands have since widened to include Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s resignation, the release of people detained at previous protests and an inquiry into the police’s use of force.

China won’t sit back

Police said in a statement Sunday that at least 20 vehicles were damaged and officers’ safety was put at risk when protesters hurled bricks and other objects into the station with “large catapults.” When police dispersed the crowd some protesters hurled petrol bombs and other objects at officers, who fired tear gas to try to quell the violence, police said.

At least 20 people were arrested for offenses including unlawful assembly and assault, according to the statement.

Xinhua said in a commentary that the central government would not sit back and let the situation continue, while reiterating that it’s sticking to the one country, two systems regime. The news agency warned “evil forces which are trying to challenge the central government’s authority, to destroy the one country, two systems bottom line” that they will be judged by history.

The report accused protesters of throwing a Chinese national flag into the sea in an act that is an insult to all Chinese nationals including Hong Kong residents.

Two marches are planned for Sunday afternoon, one in the western side of Hong Kong island, ending in the area near China’s liaison office; the other in the New Territories neighborhood of Tseung Kwan O.

Government Condemns Acts of Protesters

The Hong Kong government in a statement expressed regret over what it termed protesters’ “violent” and “radical” actions, including barricading major roads in the Yau Tsim Mong district and the entrance to the Cross Harbor Tunnel. It said the actions went beyond what a “civilized society” considers freedom of expression. “We express regret over such behaviors which are illegal and disregard the public order and the needs of other members of the public.” Acts that defaced the national flag were also condemned.

Wong Tai Sin residents tear-gassed

Police fired tear gas in Wong Tai Sin, a residential area with mostly public housing named for the nearby temple of the same name. Many were apparently local residents without gas masks or hard hats. They were angry at riot police who made arrests earlier on, including of at least one elderly person. Many remained on the streets as confrontations continued. Hundreds of protesters returned and encircled a police station in the Prince Edward neighborhood.

Police use tear gas in Mong Kok

Police fired tear gas in the densely populated neighborhood of Mong Kok for the first time since the start of the protests seven weeks ago. Lines of riot police faced off against demonstrators who had blocked Nathan Road, a main commercial thoroughfare. Police made progress in clearing many of the demonstrators, though some appeared to have entered into other neighborhoods with a thinner police presence.

A large number of protesters remained in neighboring Tsim Sha Tsui, even after police fired several rounds of tear gas there to try dispel the demonstrators.

Tear gas fired in Tsim Sha Tsui

Police fired tear gas to dispel protesters who had surrounded a police station in the Tsim Sha Tsui area, a shopping district that attracts many Chinese tourists. Protesters had set a fire near the station and hurled bricks at the outpost. Demonstrators had also blocked Nathan Road, the main thoroughfare in Kowloon, from Tsim Sha Tsui to Mong Kok. Riot police were also out in number trying to clear protesters from the Mong Kok district.

Cross-Harbour Tunnel barricaded

Marchers from a rally in Mong Kok broke up into groups with some heading toward the shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui, where they took over the waterfront Canton Road. Some protesters set up barricades blocking the entrance to the Cross Harbor Tunnel, a busy route for vehicles, TV footage showed. Authorities cleared the barricades but traffic was backed up in a huge jam on the Hong Kong Island side of the tunnel.

Organizers said 120,000 people attended the anti-government march, while police estimated that 4,200 were on the originally agreed route for the rally.

One city, two rallies

Anti-government protesters gathered in a park in the Kowloon area for a 1.5 kilometer (about 1 mile) march to the Mong Kong district on a route approved by police. The park was overflowing with thousands of demonstrators spilling into the streets as police kept a low profile.

In Causeway Bay, across the harbor on the Hong Kong Island side, thousands protesters congregated in Victoria Park in support of the police. Organizers said 90,000 people took part, while the media reported police as saying 26,000 attended.

One of the demonstrators, who would only give her name as Ms Fung, accused the media of supporting protesters.

“If the news is beneficial to the people clad in black, they report it,” she said. The protesters don’t realize the harm they’re inflicting on the economy, she said. “The police are very good compared to other countries.”

Lam Attends Event

Hong Kong’s embattled leader attended a cocktail reception celebrating the upcoming 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China at the Hong Kong Cultural Center. Some 20 black-clad protesters waited for her, Radio Television Hong Kong reported. Afterward, she didn’t answer questions from protesters and media about the civil servants’ rally as she was escorted away by bodyguards. People called out to her: “Have you ever responded to us?” “You are ignoring public opinion.” “Do you agree you are hiding?”

‘To Voice My Opinion’ 

“I am worried about the future of Hong Kong. We are being China-fied after all, despite the promise of ‘one country, two systems.’ I will keep coming out because I am so worried,” said Ms Fung, a 60-year-old retired civil servant who worked as a clerk in the police commissioner’s office for more than 20 years and declined to give her first name. “I want to come out and show that it’s not just the young people and the people who are protesting that are against Carrie Lam, the extradition bill, and the police violence.”

Earlier in the evening, organizers played a video on a jumbo screen that summarized weeks of protests. When it came to July 21 attacks on marchers by unidentified white-shirted men at a train station in the suburb of Yuen Long, some people wept.

My department “serves Hong Kong people,” said Alan Cheung, 28, who works for the city’s fire services department and came to the protest in a black shirt. “What happened in Yuen Long station and the police, what they do, is injustice.”

“I come to this protest to voice my opinion,” Cheung said.

Civil Servant Rally

Thousands of people poured into centrally located Chater Garden after work for a planned civil servants’ protest, some of them chanting the popular Chinese saying “add oil,” a refrain of this movement that means to add fuel. The crowds flooded onto adjoining Chater Road as black-shirted demonstrators continued to join the gathering.

Anticipating the rally, the government on Thursday night released a statement saying its civil servants must uphold their “political neutrality.”

Protesters’ Next Plans

Sunday will see two marches. The one that’s expected to be larger will start in the expat-friendly residential neighborhood of Kennedy Town and end at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park in Sai Ying Pun, the area near China’s liaison office where protesters and demonstrators clashed last weekend. As the protests continue fan across the city, another march will be held in the New Territories neighborhood Tseung Kwan O.

A general strike and seven accompanying rallies called for Monday across the city are gaining traction in protester forums. They call for peaceful “non co-operation actions” at three busy metro stations at 7:30 a.m., as rush hour kicks off: Lai King, Diamond Hill and Fortress Hill. The strike begins hours later, at 1 p.m., with gatherings in Tuen Mun, Tseun Wan, Tai Po, Sha Tin, Mong Kok, Wong Tai Sin and Admiralty, which houses government offices and has been ground zero for weeks of mass marches.

About 450 employees from both Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and Hong Kong Airlines Ltd. said they will take part in Monday’s strike, Apple Daily reported Saturday, citing unidentified people.

More than 300 Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon employees, including pilots, flight attendants and support staff, and about 150 from Hong Kong Airlines have expressed support for the civil action, the paper said. The employees who want to take part may take leave or call in sick, Apple Daily reported.

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