Hong Kong protest leaders plan to hold another mass rally on Sunday, with the announcement coming a day after police cleared tens of thousands of demonstrators from the streets using volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.
For almost a week, protesters in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory have been coming out in force against a controversial extradition bill that – if passed – would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.
Eleven people were arrested in clashes between protesters and police on Wednesday, according to Hong Kong’s police commissioner, while 79 others were being treated for protest-related injuries on Thursday morning, the city’s Hospital Authority said. Those wounded included both civilians and police.
Jimmy Chan from the Civil Human Rights Front, the main protest group, on Thursday called for a mass rally to be held on Sunday with a citywide strike to follow on Monday.
“[We] will fight until the end with Hong Kong people,” he told reporters, adding that he had applied for permission to hold the weekend rally.
“When facing ignorance, contempt and suppression, we will only be stronger, there will only be more Hong Kong people”.
Sporadic demonstrations broke out on Thursday. There were occasional scuffles with police, but crowds and clashes were significantly smaller than those of Wednesday, which saw the worst political violence in the international hub since its 1997 handover to China.
‘Wholly unnecessary force’
Tens of thousands of demonstrators surrounded government and legislative buildings in an attempt to force a postponement of a vote on the extradition law.
The vote was eventually postponed, but the violent dispersal of the crowd drew criticism, with the European Union urging Hong Kong authorities to respect the rights of protesters.
Meanwhile, both Beijing and Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam have taken aim at demonstrators describing the protests as a “riot”.
The Hong Kong Bar Association has called for an independent inquiry into the use of “excessive force” by police at Wednesday’s protest.
It said the police “may well have overstepped its lawful powers” with “wholly unneccessary force against largely unarmed protesters who did not appear to pose any immediate threat to the police or the public”.
A Hong Kong legislator said on Thursday that young people there have lost faith in the police and their government following the violent clashes.
Labour Party Vice Chairman Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung told The Associated Press that the relationship between citizens and the authorities “has completely deteriorated”.
“We’ve seen [the police] use extreme forces which are not proportional to the demonstration,” Cheung said, adding that the widespread use of face masks by protesters and their unwillingness to be identified was understandable given the authorities’ growing tendency to file heavy charges for seemingly mild public disorder offences.
Uneasy alliances and cyberattacks
The prospect of new rallies sets up a fresh confrontation with Hong Kong’s government, which has refused to back-peddle on the extradition bill.
Government offices were closed on Thursday, as riot police lined the city’s main roads to deter further protests.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Hong Kong, said there was a sense on Thursday that both the government and protesters were waiting to see what came next, adding that a further postponement had been put in place, meaning the vote on the bill will not take place on Friday.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China under the principle of “one country, two systems”, in which Hong Kong received semi-autonomy and greater freedoms than mainland China.
The framework is a frequent cause of tension between the city and mainland China, and protesters fear that the proposed bill will allow China to encroach on these rights and lead to critics of Beijing being targeted.
Taiwan – which also shares an uneasy relationship with mainland China – said on Thursday the protests are proof that the “one country, two systems” framework does not work.
Also on Thursday, Pavel Durov, the CEO of the encrypted messaging app Telegram, said it was hit by a powerful cyberattack that coincided with the protests.
In a post on Twitter on Thursday, Durov said the cyberattack mostly came from a Chinese IP address.
“Historically, a state actor-sized [attacks] we experienced coincided in time with protests in Hong Kong [coordinated on @telegram]. This case was no exception,” Durov wrote.
The messaging system is frequently used to arrange protests with the hope to evade government surveillance.