Hong Kong police yesterday fired tear gas and water cannons as thousands of pro-democracy protesters hit the streets, defying authorities with an unsanctioned march after Beijing vowed to tighten its control over the unrest-plagued territory.
Crowds of black-clad protesters, many wearing masks, despite a ban, filled Causeway Bay, a popular shopping district, and clashes soon erupted as riot police tried to scatter them.
Sustained volleys of tear gas were fired throughout the afternoon on Hong Kong Island while a water cannon truck chased groups of activists as they blocked roads, built barricades and vandalized some businesses — including smashing windows at the office of China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
Among those caught in the tear gas clouds were rugby fans who had gathered in bars in the Wanchai neighborhood to watch the Rugby World Cup final.
Police were seen making multiple arrests throughout the day.
The latest clashes came after China on Friday warned that it would not tolerate any challenge to Hong Kong’s governing system and planned to boost patriotic education in the territory, which has seen 22 consecutive weekends of youth-led protests.
Hong Kong has been upended by the huge, often-violent, pro-democracy protests that have battered the financial hub’s reputation for stability and helped plunge the territory into recession.
Beijing has shown no willingness to meet protester demands for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability — and activists have shown no sign of leaving the streets.
“The government and the police have been ignoring and suppressing the people’s demands, so we need to continue the movement to show them we still want what we are asking for,” 18-year-old protester Gordon Tsoi, who was not wearing a mask, told reporters as he marched.
“The entire government is being controlled by the central government [in Beijing] now, so we have to come out to protect the freedoms we deserve,” added another 17-year-old protester, who declined to give his name.
Police gave permission for an evening rally in the territory’s commercial district, but rejected an application to march through the streets in the afternoon, citing safety concerns given the months of clashes.
As has happened so often in the past, protesters simply defied the ban and began massing in large numbers, despite the risk of arrest and jail for taking part in an illegal assembly.
Police later canceled the evening rallies, but crowds had already begun gathering, setting the stage for more unrest into the evening.
Among those calling for people to come out yesterday was Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), one of the territory’s most prominent activists, who was barred earlier this week from standing in upcoming local elections.
“Exercising freedom of assembly has become increasingly difficult as police in HK holds tighter grip in recent months. Yet we’re not giving up our constitutional rights,” Wong wrote on Twitter.
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