Scenes reminiscent of last year’s chaos were renewed in the popular protest spots of Hong Kong yesterday as anti-government protesters played a game of cat and mouse into the night with riot police, who made swift arrests and fired volleys of tear gas into the crowd.
At least 180 people were arrested and the Hospital Authority said six were admitted to hospitals, with one in a critical condition.
Thousands of demonstrators opposing moves by Beijing to directly enforce a national security law in the city gathered outside the Sogo mall in Causeway Bay at 1pm, after heeding online calls to show their disapproval.
The crowd included residents in the popular shopping area who watched the events unfold despite heavy police presence – 8,000 were deployed across the city – and a ban on public gatherings of more than eight, one of the social distancing measures in place.
Demonstrators stood in defiance, chanting slogans in Cantonese, including a relatively new one: “Hong Kong independence, the only way out” and the usual “black cops”, that meant the police are corrupt.
Traffic in Causeway Bay and roads in Wan Chai came to a standstill, with trams and buses trapped on some roads as hardcore protesters blocked roads with barricades and traffic cones, resulting in the police firing rounds of tear gas, pepper pellets and deploying water cannon to disperse the crowd.
The police said they did so after some rioters blocked various roads, such as Hennessy Road, Yee Wo Street and Fleming Road, “with miscellaneous objects, causing serious obstruction to the road traffic”.
Windows of what were deemed pro-government shops and the driver’s window of a sedan ferrying officers were smashed.
At least four media liaison officers were hurt after they were struck by bricks thrown towards the officers along the Canal Road Flyover, the police said.
Hong Kong Law Society president Melissa Kaye Pang condemned the attack on a lawyer, who reportedly suffered serious injuries after being assaulted by a group of black-clad people with umbrellas in Causeway Bay.
An expatriate who calls herself Jane expressed frustration with the lockdown in Causeway Bay, saying that in her more than two years in Hong Kong, even during last year’s fierce clashes, she has always been able to get home.
“I just want to get home after a long day and my house is just in front on Yee Wo Street but I can’t,” she said.
An equally upset local woman shouted at the police stationed along East Point Road: “Hong Kong is now governed by the police and we can’t go anywhere anymore.”
Compared with the unrest last year, protesters were more scattered and appeared in smaller groups but their demonstrations spread from Hong Kong Island across the harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok later in the day.
Separate demonstrations were staged by pro-democracy activists – those from the League of Social Democrats, Neo Democrats and Labour Party – outside Beijing’s liaison office in the western part of Hong Kong Island.
The renewed tensions come as Beijing moved last Friday to directly enforce a controversial national security law in Hong Kong by announcing a draft resolution to be voted this week.
Despite reassurances from pro-Beijing lawmakers and Chief Executive Carrie Lam that China’s decision will not erode freedoms in Hong Kong, the opposition camp and activists begged to differ, particularly as the draft states that Beijing can set up national security agencies in the territory to aid local authorities with enforcement.
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