(Bloomberg) — Hong Kong demonstrators and police clashed for a second straight day as the city’s China-backed government struggles to quell growing discontent and amid violent clashes that have marred the historic movement in recent weeks.
Riot police fired volleys of tear gas at hundreds of black-shirted protesters and wrestled some people to the ground to make arrests Sunday in Sai Ying Pun, a residential and business area where the Chinese government’s liaison office is located. 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.
A number of stores in the neighborhood were closed ahead of the tense standoff, as riot police carrying shields marched in rows down a main street. Police said they used tear gas to disperse protesters who hurled bricks at officers, in a situation that was “drastically deteriorating.” MTR Corp., Hong Kong’s urban rail operator, said service had been suspended between Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town.
Thousands of people initially gathered at centrally-located Chater Garden and marched without a definite plan toward the Admiralty, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay areas that were ground zero for previous mass rallies. They had chanted slogans including “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” “shame on police who beat people” and “return us the right to demonstrate.”
The sprawling Sogo department store in Causeway Bay, owned by Lifestyle International Holdings, was closed though the situation in that area remained peaceful.
Sunday’s march came the day after thousands of protesters descended on the suburb of Yuen Long near the Chinese border to condemn a mob attack against train commuters and demonstrators that shocked the city last weekend. A Friday sit-in at Hong Kong’s international airport also drew thousands and underscored the economic risk of continued unrest.
Police on Saturday used batons, tear gas and pepper spray on people throwing stones and wielding metal rods. Thirteen people were arrested for their involvement in Yuen Long, Yolanda Yu, a senior superintendent at the Police Public Relations Branch, told reporters on Sunday. That march’s organizer, Max Chung, had been taken into custody, she said.
“The police’s job was to disperse protesters, not to vent their own anger on them,” Joe Pang, a 65-year-old retired bank manager, said of Saturday’s protests as he gathered in Chater Garden holding up a poster that read “Stop the violence.”
Nine people were hurt on Saturday, Hong Kong’s RTHK reported, while police said four officers were injured.
The government expressed “deep regret” over the march in Yuen Long, which went ahead despite the lack of a permit, and condemned “radical protesters” who charged police cordons, disrupting public peace and challenging the law. About 288,000 people took part in Saturday’s protest, organizer Chung told reporters. Police, citing the lack of a permit, wouldn’t estimate the size of the crowd.
Police early Sunday said the protesters disregarded the personal safety of residents and the public. The demonstrators used metal poles and self-made shields to attack officers and charge the cordon line — they even removed fences from roads to form road blocks, according to a police statement.
The former British colony’s government is reeling from its biggest political crisis since its 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.
The unrest has 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.
“Even Carrie Lam’s resignation and universal suffrage aren’t going to resolve the crisis in Hong Kong. The truth is China is having a tighter and tighter grip on Hong Kong and our rights,” said Oscar Cheung, an office worker in his twenties, as he stood in Chater Garden Sunday in a black shirt and sunglasses.
With 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 malls that have been targeted.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan said in a blog post Sunday that many local retail and catering businesses had experienced a “sharp decline” in business, warning that the longer the historic protests go on, the more pressure they will pile on small and medium-sized enterprises.
Ahead 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.
Demonstrators on Saturday targeted the police as well as a village where the mob was believed to have originated. Police moved to clear the area late at night after some protesters packed into the narrow streets hurled stones at officers and vandalized a law-enforcement van with personnel inside. A few hundred people engaged in running street battles with officers, who pursued them inside a subway station.
(Updates with details of protest in second paragraph.)
–With assistance from Justin Chin, Chloe Whiteaker, Annie Lee, Iain Marlow, Alfred Liu and Eric Lam.
To contact the reporters on this story: Shawna Kwan in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org;Fion Li in Hong Kong at email@example.com;Owen Franks in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org
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