Hong Kong Braces for More Weekend Unrest After Tear Gas, Clashes

(Bloomberg) — Hong Kong police and protesters faced off for the eighth straight weekend as the China-backed government struggles to quell discontent over Beijing’s increasing control over the financial hub.Thousands of protesters descended Saturday on the northern suburb of Yuen Long near the Chinese border to condemn a mob attack last weekend that shocked the city, marking a violent turning point in the historic protest movement. While police on Saturday used batons, tear gas and pepper spray on protesters throwing stones and wielding metal rods, the violence wasn’t as bad as some had feared. Nine people were hurt, Hong Kong’s RTHK reported.Demonstrators are set to hit the streets again Sunday near the Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong. Protesters vandalized the building last week, drawing stern warnings from Beijing and sparking fears that China’s military would be called in to restore order.The government in a statement expressed “deep regret” over the march in Yuen Long, despite the lack of a permit, and condemned “radical protesters” who charged police cordons, disrupting public peace and challenging the law. Police early Sunday said the protesters disregarded the personal safety of residents and the public.The former British colony’s government is currently reeling from its biggest political crisis since the return to Chinese rule in 1997. The movement to oppose a bill allowing extraditions to the mainland has expanded to include calls for genuine universal suffrage, an inquiry into excessive force by police and demands for Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s resignation.“We all disagree with Carrie Lam and the government,” Wini L., a retired civil servant employee who declined to give her full name, said on Saturday. “That’s why we come out every week. We’ll never stop.”The outbursts of violence have put pressure on Chinese President Xi Jinping to find a solution. Beijing has so far backed Lam’s government, in part to avoid setting a precedent in which street protests lead to political change. His government has also accused the U.S. of supporting the demonstrations, a charge the Trump administration has denied. In a Bloomberg Television interview Thursday, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo urged China to “do the right thing.”Sales HitWith the unrest showing no signs of ending, the city’s reputation among investors as a stable environment for business has taken a hit. Local retailers are bracing for poor sales figures as demonstrations keep tourists out of shops and ordinary residents seek to avoid major shopping malls that have been targeted.“We haven’t seen anything improved by the government,” Cat Cheung, a 20-year-old student who spoke through his gas mask, said on Saturday after retreating from the front lines. “That’s why we have to keep coming out.”Saturday’s demonstration came a day after a sit-in at Hong Kong’s international airport, which underscored the economic risk of continued unrest. It was the first of three days of demonstrations against the city’s government.Organizers said 15,000 people took part in the airport protest, while police put the number at 4,000 at its peak. About 288,000 people took part in the Saturday rally, organizer Max Chung told reporters. Police, citing the lack of a permit, won’t estimate the size of the crowd.Crime SyndicatesAhead of the protest Saturday, fears grew that large groups of black-shirted activists would draw out the pro-establishment mob that had beaten the protesters with sticks on July 21. Police had said some of the assailants arrested later had links to the city’s notorious organized crime syndicates, or triads, and denied a permit to the rally on Saturday due to fear of renewed clashes.“The violence in Yuen Long last week shocked Hong Kong and persuaded many people into supporting and joining the protest movement,” opposition lawmaker Raymond Chan said as protesters in yellow hard hats marched past him in Yuen Long on Saturday afternoon. “Even though it’s a little bit dangerous, you see so many people have come out.”Demonstrators on Saturday targeted the police as well as a village where the mob was believed to have originated. As the rally began in the afternoon, a large crowd of protesters surrounded a police station in the village and pressed in toward the entrance, chanting “bad cops.”“The police aren’t even human,” said Bobo Tsang, who had rolled a flyer into a makeshift megaphone so she could yell at cops filming the rally from the top of a building in the police station compound. “I wouldn’t have come out if they didn’t behave so poorly.“Many feared violence but some of the more radical members of the large crowd carried their usual hard hats, gas masks and goggles in preparation for a clash with police.Police moved to clear the area late Saturday after some demonstrators packed into the narrow streets hurled stones at officers and vandalized a law enforcement van with personnel inside. About 10 p.m. local time, a few hundred hardcore activists continued to engage in running street battles with the cops, who pursued them inside one of the subway stations.Police used smoke, sponge bullets and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, Yolanda Yu, senior superintendent at the Police Public Relations Branch, said early Sunday.Asked whether indiscriminate force was used, she said protesters had hurled fire extinguishers at officers on a bridge near the station, and in an attempt to gain control, police entered the station.“I just wanted to show the police that we can’t let gangsters rule Yuen Long,” said Neil Li, a 23-year-old student at the protest. “Hong Kong people need to protect our place. We can’t let the police and the gangsters attack our people.”(Updates with government statement in fourth paragraph.)\–With assistance from Justin Chin.To contact the reporters on this story: Iain Marlow in Hong Kong at imarlow1@bloomberg.net;Alfred Liu in Hong Kong at aliu226@bloomberg.net;Annie Lee in Hong Kong at olee42@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net;Shamim Adam at sadam2@bloomberg.net;Andrew Davis at abdavis@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

(Bloomberg) — Hong Kong police and protesters fought pitched battles in the northern district of Yuen Long where demonstrators converged for a march after stick-wielding mobs attacked train commuters and demonstrators on Sunday.

Riot police fired tear gas as demonstrators hurled projectiles at them and vandalized their vehicles. The protesters, mostly clad in black and some wearing protective helmets, appeared to drive back the initial police advance.

Police warned that a “chaotic scene” may ensue and urged the public to leave the area as soon as possible. They had withheld permission for the marches, citing fears of clashes.

The demonstration follows a sit-in at Hong Kong’s international airport Friday, the first of three days of demonstrations against the city’s China-backed government. Organizers said 15,000 people took part in the airport protest, while police put the number at 4,000 at its peak.

The former British colony is entering its eighth straight week of unrest sparked by now-suspended legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. The movement has swelled into a wider anti-government campaign that includes demands for Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s resignation and an inquiry into excessive use of force against protesters.

The city’s No. 2 official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, urged Hong Kong residents “to express their demands in a peaceful and rational way” in a rare news conference before Saturday’s march. He said the government took “a very serious attitude” toward the possibility of violence and said, “we cannot rule out the possibility of large number of people turning up.”

As many as 3,000 police officers would be deployed to maintain order in Yuen Long and will arrest people where necessary if there are illegal mass gatherings, Wen Wei Po reported, citing unidentified people. Police declined to talk about operation details Saturday when contacted by phone.

On Friday, swarms of people wearing the black shirts favored by protesters sat on the ground of Terminal 1’s arrivals hall, holding signs and chanting “Free Hong Kong! Free Hong Kong!” and other slogans as crowds watched. Cathay Pacific Airlines Ltd.’s flight attendants’ union encouraged aviation industry staff to participate and said it would set up a specific area for its members.

The protest at Asia’s busiest international airport underscores the economic risk of continued unrest, with local retailers bracing for a single-to-double-digit drop sales as demonstrations keep tourists out of shops. In recent weeks, the protests have spilled over from government districts to malls and railway stations, impacting more ordinary residents.

The civil actions have continued despite government apologies and promises not to pass the extradition bill.

“The protest is a way to show that Hong Kong people have had enough of this and hope the government will stop the violence,” said Marco Chan, a 23-year-old legal analyst. “For those of my friends who decide to go, they think that what happened in Yuen Long last week is too outrageous for them not to step up and show how angry they are.”

Authorities later arrested a dozen men, including at least nine with suspected links to the city’s notorious triad gangs who have long had a large presence in the area. Police Commissioner Stephen Lo has defended officers’ conduct in Yuen Long, saying those who had arrived on scene were outnumbered and not properly equipped to respond. At least 45 people were injured in the attacks.

A 56-year-old retired civil servant, who would only give his name as R. Ng, was at Saturday’s protest with his wife and friends, and said he’s worried about potential violence in Yuen Long, despite attending many protests. “This is my first time taking an umbrella, because I need to protect myself,” he said.

The outbursts of violence, including clashes between police and protesters near China’s liaison office in the city on Sunday, have put pressure on Chinese President Xi Jinping to find a solution. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo urged China in a Bloomberg Television interview Thursday to “do the right thing” in Hong Kong and called on all parties to avoid violence. China’s foreign ministry had earlier urged the U.S. to remove its “black hand” from the city.

On Sunday, protesters also plan to march from centrally located Chater Garden on Hong Kong Island toward the western neighborhood of Sheung Wan. That will bring them close to China’s local government office, where vandalism during a rally on Sunday prompted warnings from Beijing.

(Adds comments from fifth paragraph.)

–With assistance from Annie Lee.

To contact the reporters on this story: Iain Marlow in Hong Kong at imarlow1@bloomberg.net;Justin Chin in Hong Kong at hchin15@bloomberg.net;Alfred Liu in Hong Kong at aliu226@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Shamim Adam at sadam2@bloomberg.net, ;Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Stanley James

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