Police and protesters clash amid huge democracy march in Hong Kong

Riot police fire teargas after protesters ignore orders to restrict rally boundaries

Police and demonstrators have clashed after hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in the citys largest demonstration in recent weeks.

Riot police armed with batons and shields fired teargas to disperse the crowd as protesters ran toward officers who tried to push them back from a main road in the western district near Beijings liaison office with the city. One demonstrator threw a bottle at police. Officers advanced on the crowd, setting off smoke bombs.

Smoke filled the air after several rounds of teargas were fired. Hundreds of protesters ran away in panic.

The clashes came after demonstrators defied police orders to restrict the boundaries of their rally, in a new and bold display of support for a political movement that shows few signs of slowing.

Lily Kuo (@lilkuo)

Protesters ran toward police, with one throwing a bottle and police have now advanced on them and set off what looks like tear gas. pic.twitter.com/EnJpi6ywD8

July 21, 2019

Protesters ignored police demands to end the march before reaching the heart of the business district in central Hong Kong and continued marching on to the Beijing liaison office.

They graffitied the walls of the building and called for a revolution of the century. The Chinese Communist party brings chaos to Hong Kong, another said. Protesters set up barricades with metal fences and threw eggs before calling on the crowd to retreat as vans of riot police took up positions near them.

Elderly protesters holding flowers as a sign of peace pledged to stay until the younger protesters had left. Other demonstrators set up barricades with dismantled metal fences.

Organisers estimated that about 430,000 people had attended the march on Sunday, which marks the seventh consecutive weekend when citizens have come out against the government. The protests, which began over the now-suspended bill, have grown into a wider democracy movement in the Chinese territory. Protesters are also calling for an investigation into alleged police brutality against unarmed protesters in previous rallies.

The government hasnt responded, so we just need to keep coming out, said Catherine Sin, 21, a recent graduate who said this was the fourth protest she had attended in the last month.

Protesters
Protesters prepare to confront riot police while waving a US flag. Photograph: Vincent Yu/AP

Volunteers instructed protesters to put on face masks to avoid detection by police while others carried water, umbrellas and other supplies.

Demonstrators created a sea of black, the official colour of the protest movement, punctuated by umbrellas giving shade from the sun. They chanted their demands, focused mainly on calls for an inquiry into police tactics and dropping prosecutions against arrested protesters, shouting investigate suppression and withdraw the prosecution. Some held photos of injured protesters and signs saying: Stop police brutality.

Amid the main march, hundreds made a detour to congregate outside the police headquarters, which has twice before been the scene of noisy rallies in which protesters vandalised the outside of the building. On Sunday, the HQ was surrounded by giant water-filled barricades set up by the authorities. Riot police in green uniforms holding long shields were standing guard behind the barricades at one point.

Protesters stuck colourful sticky notes with messages condemning police violence on the barricades. Nasty police, shame on you! many shouted. Hong Kong police know the law but break the law. The crowds booed and gestured when police officers appeared on a balcony.

For freedom and dignity, we need to pay a price. I dont advocate violence but to be effective in getting what we want, bloodshed is sometimes inevitable. Its a sad reality, said one protester, who gave his name as Raymond, when asked if he expected the march to result in renewed clashes between police and protesters.

Earlier, there were cheers as protesters streamed out of Hong Kongs Victoria Park, heading towards the city centre. Demonstrators called Go Hong Kong! and held signs that said No extradition to China in reference to the controversial extradition bill that has caused the citys largest political crisis in decades.

In response to mass demonstrations and clashes that began in early June, Hong Kongs leader, Carrie Lam, promised the extradition bill was dead. Protesters worried Beijing would use the bill to extradite activists and political enemies to China.

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A protester runs after police fired teargas. Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Activists have vowed to continue until Lam meets key demands, including the permanent withdrawal of the bill, and democratic reforms to establish direct elections. They also want her to resign.

She keeps making things worse, said Gordon Poon, who joined the march.

Sundays protest was quieter than past demonstrations, some said, but activists were still happy with the turnout. Three hours after the march began crowds were still making their way from the demonstrations starting point.

People still came out. We still have to do something, said Crystal Wong, 34, a therapist.

Others said they were prepared to come out every weekend or several times a month. So, a social worker who asked to give only her surname, said: I think its becoming more long-lasting. We are ready for a long fight.

Before the march began, some demonstrators shouted at police officers, condemning them for beating protesters in past demonstrations. One young man used rolled up paper to repeatedly beat a poster with a photograph of the police commissioner. Bags of rubbish and newspaper were thrown out of a nearby window at the crowd, which drew boos in response.

Police built water barriers around their headquarters and set a security cordon around the government complex. Metal fences, rubbish bins and other street materials, which demonstrators have dismantled and used to make barricades for past protests, have been removed. Workers have glued bricks to the ground to stop them being used as weapons.

The police have warned of possible violence. Authorities said on Saturday they discovered 2kg of powerful homemade explosives, triacetone triperoxide (TATP), and petrol bombs, acid, knives and metal rods on the premises, as well as anti-extradition bill banners.

The route of Sundays march was originally meant to end at Hong Kongs high court in the city centre to underline another demand for a judge-led commission to investigate police use of rubber bullets, teargas and truncheons on unarmed protesters over the past few weeks. Instead, police have ordered the rally organiser, Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), to conclude the march at an earlier point on the route, before reaching the city centre, which is close to the government complex. Local public broadcaster RTHK reported that protesters were defying police orders and marching toward the government headquarters in Admiralty.

Protesters
Protesters walk down Hennessay Road during the march. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

In an English-language editorial on Sunday, Chinas state-run Global Times said: China will not allow extremists and external forces to take down Hong Kongs legal system and drive the city into a vicious cycle. If Hong Kong loses its rule of law and becomes a political battleground, it will have an uncertain future. That is against the wishes of Hong Kong residents, and China will not allow it to happen.

The protests pose the most direct challenge to Beijings authority over the former British colony since its return to Chinese control in 1997. As part of the deal, Hong Kong was meant to maintain a high degree of autonomy from the mainland, with an independent judiciary and a free press, under a framework known as one country, two systems.

But over the years, the city has witnessed the growing influence of Beijing. Independent booksellers have disappeared, the government has disqualified pro-democracy politicians and jailed pro-democracy activists.

Bonnie Leung Wing-man, the vice convener of CHRF, said she expected as many to turn out as in a recent march on 1 July, the anniversary of Hong Kongs handover, when half a million people attended. More than 1 million people attended previous marches.

As Carrie Lams government didnt show real actions or sincerity to respond to our demands, and police abuse of power has continued, we expect a large turnout, she said.

The protests have settled into a pattern in which peaceful demonstrations sanctioned by the city turn violent when police clash with those who refuse to leave. Police have warned demonstrators to leave immediately when the demonstration ends on Sunday, one minute before midnight.

On Saturday, pro-Beijing groups organised a rival rally pledging support for the police and calling for an end to the unrest. In China, the protests have been described as riots, with state-media focusing on demonstrators clashes with police. Images of the protests have been censored on the messaging platform WeChat.

A group of demonstrators released a video of protesters, hunger strikers and others reading aloud a manifesto for the movement. Some faced the camera while others showed only their backs. Two women, said to be parents of protesters, said: We do not have arms, we are not violent. All we have are hearts that yearn for justice and a fearless determination to go on.

While protesters have vowed to continue until Lam meets their demands, some say they fear the movement will lose steam as demonstrations fail to produce meaningful results from the government. There is no end. In the short term Im not optimistic, but we are doing our best. Without actual change of regime in Beijing, nothing will improve, said Poon.

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