HONG KONG – Some seven hours after Hong Kong police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Wednesday (June 12) to disperse tens of thousands of protesters who surrounded the government headquarters, a standoff continues on Queensway in Admiralty, stretching to Wan Chai.
The police fired tear gas in Queensway to disperse the protesters whose modus operandi is one of constant advance and retreat, reminiscent of the 2014 “occupy” movement.
Once the protesters retreated, workers moved in to clear the road of rubbish and barriers.
But the protesters would return after the police retreated.
The protesters have been forced to move in two different directions – towards Central and Wan Chai – when riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, and used pepper sprays.
Over in Central, hundreds of demonstrators took over Connaught Road Central and Pedder Street, near Exchange Square.
As with what happened at the Legislative Council (LegCo) area, traffic has been paralysed on Connaught Road Central and Pedder Street, near Exchange Square.
A few buses were left stranded in the vicinity, while many of the protesters moved to overhead walkways.
At around 11pm Wednesday, the protesters were spotted gathering at the junction outside AIA tower in Central and junction of Hennessy Road and Queen’s Road East towards Wan Chai.
At least 72 people were injured and taken to the hospital following the afternoon clashes. Among those injured were two men in serious condition, said a government spokesman.
The violence has been condemned by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who said in a strongly-worded video that the Admiralty protesters were “openly orchestrating a riot”.
Rioting is punishable with a 10-year jail term.
Protesters’ disregard for public safety and dangerous acts of setting things on fire and throwing bricks at the police were not peaceful activities, she said, adding that the violence had damaged public order and put residents, journalists and police officers in danger.
Mrs Lam noted topics involving Hong Kong’s ties with Beijing always cause conflict, but said she trusts the city can handle problems in a peaceful, rational and legal manner.
Earlier on Wednesday (June 12), tens of thousands of protesters, many of them dressed in black and wearing face masks, surrounded LegCo and took over the vicinity’s roads.
The move cut off lawmakers’ access to LegCo so that they could not debate the controversial extradition Bill on Wednesday morning.
Restlessness ensued in the following hours as the government showed no signs of backing down.
The only reaction was a brief statement by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung calling for demonstrators to end their protest.
Protesters’ frustrations were reflected in chat groups. Overheard on phone calls, an ultimatum was set for 3pm and that was when tensions escalated.
The protesters charged at the police with umbrellas, goggles and masks.
They threw water bottles, bricks, traffic cones and other items at riot police and chanted slogans, vowing to stay put until the government withdraws the legislation that would allow extraditions to China.
This forced the police to retaliate with tear gas and rubber bullets, which dispersed most of the crowd.
The violence comes after Sunday’s million-strong rally – the biggest since Hong Kong was handed back to China by the British in 1997.
That protest also ended in violence. Some 360 demonstrators stormed LegCo and clashed with the police, leading to injuries and several arrests.
Late on Wednesday, Amnesty International Hong Kong accused police of violating international law by using tear gas, guns firing bean bags and rubber bullets, batons and pepper spray against protesters it said were “largely peaceful”.
Its director Tam Man-kei said that while “police have a duty to maintain public order, but in doing so they may use force only when strictly necessary”.
“Hong Kong’s police have today failed to live up to this standard,” he said.
Separately, the Civil Human Rights Front, organisers of Sunday’s massive rally, has dismissed Mrs Lam’s claim that anti-extradition law protesters took part in a riot.
Mr Avery Ng said the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by the police caused serious harm to the protesters and the only violence that took place was meted out by officers.
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