Hong Kong Protesters Battle Police, Set Fire to Key Subway Station
(Bloomberg) -- It was just a typical weekend in Hong Kong: tear gas, water cannons, petrol bombs and few signs that protests now in their fourth month would fizzle out anytime soon.
Both demonstrators and police on Sunday appeared to get more aggressive earlier on than during the previous 14 weekends of protests. Demonstrators set fire to entrances to Wan Chai subway station, while others threw petrol bombs at the central government headquarters in Admiralty. Stations including Tin Hau and Causeway Bay were also damaged.
Riot police used tear gas, water cannons, blue dye and pepper spray to clear the crowds. The violent scenes disrupted traffic and prompted major shops to close, including the Sogo department store in the Causeway Bay shopping district. Separately, police broke up fights between demonstrators and white-shirted residents who used chairs and umbrellas as weapons. An opposition lawmaker was arrested. The city had largely returned to normal by Monday’s morning commute, with Wan Chai and Admiralty stations reopened.
The tens of thousands of people on the streets chanting “Five Demands, Not One Less” showed that leader Carrie Lam’s move to withdraw a bill allowing extraditions to China hasn’t been enough to end the now-ubiquitous scenes of violence in Hong Kong. And they may only get more intense in the run-up to Oct. 1, when China celebrates 70 years of Communist Party rule.
Police said in an early Monday statement that at about 5:45 p.m. on Sunday, some 20 “radical” protesters attacked two officers and threw various petrol bombs at them near the junction of Gloucester Road and Marsh Road in Wan Chai, seriously threatening the safety of the police officers. It said the police officers “withdrew pistols as a warning to disperse them.”
Police officials said at a daily afternoon briefing Monday that the officers had shown restraint by drawing their weapons and not firing. They said they made 89 arrests between Friday and Sunday, bringing the total number of protesters arrested to 1,453 since the movement began on June 9.
“The momentum for this protest activity is still going,” said Peter, a 30-year-old who joined the protests and declined to give his surname. “We are asking for five demands, not one less.”
Remaining demands include an independent investigation into police’s use of force; an end to using the term “riot” to describe the protesters; an amnesty for those charged during previous demonstrations; and the ability to pick and vote on their leaders. Ted Hui, an opposition lawmaker, was arrested, NOW TV reported.
The protracted political chaos is taking a toll on Hong Kong’s economy. The international airport handled 6 million passengers in August, down 12.4% from a year earlier, according to figures published by the Airport Authority on Sunday. It noted the decline was mainly due to lower visitor numbers, particularly a “significant” fall in passenger traffic to and from mainland China, Southeast Asia and Taiwan.
Authorities plan to boost annual spending on public construction to more than HK$100 billion ($12.8 billion) over the next few years, up from HK$80 billion, the city’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan wrote in a blog post Sunday. Projects will include developing public housing, hospitals and new towns, he said.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized some of the city’s biggest mass rallies earlier this summer, had canceled a plan to march through the city center after authorities upheld their ban on the gathering. Police cited violence around previous protests, saying the route was too close to “high-risk buildings,” including government offices and subway stations.
Tens of thousands of protesters came out anyway, including hundreds who gathered outside the British Consulate earlier in the day chanting “God Save the Queen” and urging the U.K. government to ensure China honors its commitments to its former colony.
Police on Sunday warned those who came out in spite of the ban to stop immediately, with a series of tweets saying the gathering was illegal and saying “radical protesters” were committing “destructive acts.” The government said law enforcement officers took steps to disperse the crowds and made arrests “in a resolute manner.”
It was difficult to compare total crowd sizes with previous protests, as the police don’t issue estimates for unauthorized gatherings. In one piece of good news for the government, a planned “stress test” of the airport transport network on Saturday struggled to gain traction.
“It’s quite risky for us to go to the airport because it’s a separate island and the police could stop us at the bridge and not allow us to go through, or they can arrest all of us,” said Aidon, 18, who declined to give his last name. “It’s not because we lose momentum -- it’s more about tactics.”
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