Hong Kong police ramped up their use of force against pro-democracy protesters on Sunday, firing tear gas and rubber bullets in clashes that left more than 40 people injured, two in a serious condition.
There was strife in 13 districts, including Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, North Point, Quarry Bay, Tai Koo and Sai Wan Ho on Hong Kong Island; Tsim Sha Tsui, Lai Chi Kok, Mei Foo and Kwai Fong in Kowloon, plus Sha Tin in the New Territories.
In some areas, police stepped up their use of force – firing tear gas and rubber bullets, which caused casualties.
After two unauthorized marches early on Sunday in Sham Shui Po and on Hong Kong Island, the protesters continued their guerilla-style tactics by going to various districts to set up barricades on roads or to besiege police stations.
In Tsim Sha Tsui, hundreds massed around the local police station. Petrol bombs were thrown at the station, while police fired teargas from inside.
A female protester was shot with a beanbag round. Photos showed the woman was a nasty facial injury, bleeding with the casing of a bullet stuck in the middle of her protective goggles.
Nine men and four women, aged from 17 to 56, had been taken to hospital by midnight, the Hospital Authority said. Two were in a serious condition, including the young woman who was shot near her right eye. But early on Monday, the number of people injured had risen to 45. One was an 8-year-old child, and another was a policeman who suffered burns to his legs after being hit by a petrol bomb.
It was the tenth weekend of protests. The rallies began in opposition to a bill allowing extraditions to mainland China, but have morphed into a broader bid to reverse a slide in democratic freedoms in the city.
The movement has been seen as the biggest threat to Beijing’s rule of the semi-autonomous Chinese city since its handover from the British in 1997.
That is partly because the government led by chief executive Carrie Lam has yet to respond positively to protesters’ demands, which include a full withdrawal of the now-suspended extradition bill, direct election of the city’s leader and an investigation into police violence. And few measures have been undertaken to ease public tension.
On Saturday, Lam addressed students at Hong Kong army cadets camp and warned that the city was “suffering from external worries and internal perils”.
But the atmosphere on Sunday was very different from the peaceful sit-in that protesters staged for a third and final day at the airport, billed as a way to explain the movement to arriving visitors.
In Kwai Fong late on Sunday, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as they rushed to confront protesters at the local station who gathered there after massing outside the Kwai Chung Police Station.
Many civilians and MTR staff were said to be at the station when the police fired tear gas. White smoke saturated on the ground floor, while a train on the platform filled with protesters and passengers. Videos showed medics attending to a man dressed in protester garb lying on the floor with a bleeding nose.
Riot police were also seen charging into Tai Koo MTR Station pursuing protesters who were trying to leave.
Videos showed riot police shooting pepper balls at head level from barely one meter away, and beating people with batons even when protesters were subdued on the floor. Some riot police chased the remaining protesters who fled down a descending escalator, almost causing a stampede.
Cops in black
In Causeway Bay, a group of men dressed in outfits exactly like the protesters helped police to subdue people blocking Hennessy Road. The men wore black t-shirts and black masks. One was seen wearing a yellow safety helmet. Some also held batons.
A witness surnamed Wong, who lived nearby, said 20 to 30 masked men in black clothes mixed with the protesters then suddenly charged towards the protesters from different directions. Some 60 to 70 riot police also rushed at the mob, pushing people to the floor and arresting them.
When reporters tried to find out if these men were police, they refused to say and told media to check with the police public relations. These men then got into a white van and left, with the help of uniformed officers.
Video: Men who dressed like protesters but worked with police refuse to admit their identity. They told reporters to speak to police public relations personnel.
Meanwhile, there were several clashes and arrests in other parts of the city, including a confrontation between people gathered in North Point and reporters. The men, who spoke Putonghua and wore T-shirts saying ‘I’m Fujianese’, claimed to be defending the district from anti-government protesters roaming the streets despite a heavy police presence.
Pro-Beijing supporters, left, scuffle with an unidentified man in North Point in Hong Kong on August 11, 2019. Photo: Manan Vatsyayana / AFP
Early on Monday, a bloody clash erupted in Tsuen Wan between men wearing white shirts and brandishing sticks and bamboo poles with black-clad anti-government protesters and residents. The two groups threw glass bottles at each other, leaving several injured.
Two medical volunteers were attacked by men in white near Tsuen Wan MTR Station late on Sunday before the clashes occurred.
– with reporting by AFP