Protesters in Hong Kong vandalised a subway station, set fires and trampled on Chinese flags as pro-democracy demonstrations again took a violent turn.
Demonstrators clashed with riot police outside a mall on Sunday as officers fired brief volleys of tear gas and rubber-coated bullets in the northern town of Sha Tin, capping a day that saw thousands rally peacefully inside the mall before the mood soured.
Authorities reduced rail and bus links to the city’s airport while police stepped up security checks in a successful bid to stop a crowd from massing at the bustling transport hub.
The airport – the world’s eighth busiest – has become a frequent target for demonstrators pushing for greater democratic rightsand police accountability.
LIVE: Hong Kong riot police move in on protesters, who'd been trying to get into a metro station beneath a shopping mall in Sha Tin district. pic.twitter.com/NAZhRhUz8m
— Al Jazeera News (@AJENews) September 22, 2019
Instead, thousands gathered in Sha Tin to sing protest songs and make origami cranes in the latest rally in what has now been 16 consecutive weekends of protests and clashes.
“Even if we are very tired, we can’t give up on our rights,” said a teacher at the rally who gave her surname as Ching.
“If it [the movement] stretches to 100 days, 200 days or even 1,000 days and we still don’t get what we want, we will continue to come out.”
Tensions rose later in the afternoon. Masked activists paraded a Chinese flag through the mall that had been torn down from a nearby government building. It was later thrown into a nearby river.
Groups of masked protesters then vandalised ticket machines in Sha Tin’s subway before riot police rushed in to close the station down.
Before police arrived local television networks showed footage of a man with bruises and cuts to his face being harangued by pro-democracy protesters inside the station.
Increasingly brutal fights between opposing sides have broken out in recent weeks – a vivid illustration of the ideological fissures now running through the international finance hub.
A standoff between police and a few dozen activists behind umbrella shield walls ensued but the protesters soon dispersed once tear gas and rubber-coated rounds were launched at them.
Police snatch squads made multiple arrests.
Riot officers were also called in to rescue Patrick Nip, a minister in the Hong Kong government, after his chauffeured car was surrounded by angry protesters, local news outlets South China Morning Post and RTHK reported.
Video posted online showed residents heckling a car that was surrounded by a large crowd, which quickly ran away once riot police came onto the scene.
Millions of pro-democracy supporters have taken to Hong Kong’s streets for the past three months in the biggest challenge to China’s rule since the city’s handover from Britain in 1997.
With few protester demands met, violent clashes have become more intense and frequent.
The protests were ignited by a now-abandoned plan to allow extraditions to mainland China.
But after Beijing and local leaders took a hard line, the movement snowballed into a much wider expression of rage at the city’s local government and life under Chinese rule.
Core demands from protesters include an inquiry into the police, an amnesty for those arrested and the ability to directly elect leaders – all rejected by Hong Kong authorities and Beijing.
As a result, the protests show little sign of abating.
Protesters are aiming to draw large crowds next weekend – the fifth anniversary of the start of a previous round of failed democracy protests – and on October 1, the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China.