Hong Kong police fire tear gas at protesters as confrontation looms
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police fired tear gas at protesters on Sunday as a tenth straight weekend of anti-government demonstrations intensified amid an increasingly aggressive response from the police and Beijing.
Riot police fired volleys of tear gas at crowds of mostly young protesters outside a police station in the working class district of Sham Shui Po. In nearby Cheung Sha Wan, protesters threw objects at police who fired back with tear gas.
The action followed a day of marches by demonstrators of all ages as increasingly violent protests since June have plunged Hong Kong into its most serious crisis in decades, and pose a challenge to the central government in Beijing.
Chants of “Liberate Hong Kong” had earlier echoed through the streets when more than a thousand black-shirted protesters marched, some with their pets, amid a carnival atmosphere.
“We have lived in Hong Kong all our lives and this is the hardest time because the government is not listening to the citizens,” said a 63-year-old man surnamed Leung, who was accompanied by his 93-year-old father in a wheelchair.
“All citizens need to stay together. We will always support the children.” Residents, some cheering, came outside to see them march past. Drivers honked their horns and leaned out of car windows, giving the protesters a thumbs up.
Police have shown a growing willingness to quickly clear protesters from the streets – also firing tear gas on Saturday evening – while China has begun applying pressure to the city’s corporate giants, including flag carrier Cathay Pacific.
‘NOW OR NEVER’
On Sunday, protesters had gathered outside Sham Shui Po police station when the police began firing tear gas, but the activists stood their ground.
The protest movement, which began in response to a now-suspended law that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to stand trial in mainland China, still seems to enjoy broad support.
Thousands of activists also occupied the airport arrivals hall for a third day, while others turned out earlier at a downtown park.
Their demands have grown to include greater democracy and the resignation of the city’s leader, Carrie Lam.
“At the beginning, in June, I didn’t take it very seriously,” said Jason Liu, a 29-year-old arborist who joined a protest in Victoria Park near the city center.
“But after these two months I really feel it is now or never for us, because in 20 years we won’t be able to do anything anymore,” he said. “Our main target is obviously the government. They didn’t respond to any of our requests.”
Hong Kong was guaranteed freedoms not granted in mainland China, including an independent judiciary, under a “one country, two systems” formula, when Britain handed it back to China in 1997.
Hong Kong’s government has said the protests were pushing the city to an extremely dangerous edge, while China has said the city faces its biggest crisis since the handover.
Police made 16 arrests on Saturday, when tear gas was used with little warning to disperse crowds. Authorities have arrested more than 600 people since the rallies began in June.
Beijing also opened a new front on Friday by demanding that the city’s flagship carrier, corporate giant Cathay Pacific Airways (0293.HK), suspend staff involved in the demonstrations, with the airline later mostly agreeing to do so.
China has shown strong support for the city’s police force with state news agency Xinhua reporting Sunday that 245 representatives from Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations met in the North Point area to show their support for police.
It has seemingly done little to weaken protesters’ resolve or to erode their support among ordinary Hong Kongers.
“I don’t care if it’s legal or illegal,” said university student Polly, 18 at Sham Shui Po. “We have so many people on our side.”
‘SOME OF US WILL NEVER BACK DOWN’
Young people have been at the forefront, worried about the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, while also concerned with issues such as wealth disparities in the city.
Residents of all ages joined in protests on Sunday.
“The most frustrating thing is that we didn’t ask for more, we only asked to keep what we had,” said one man, 49, who gave his name as Jeremy and said he worked in the insurance industry.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen next, when school starts, or when Christmas comes but they need to know that some of us will never back down and this is how we raise our children as well.”