HONG KONG: Police fired tear gas at protesters in Hong Kong on Saturday after anti-government marches went ahead in two areas of the Chinese territory in defiance of an official ban.
Tear gas was fired at a crowd of 1,000 people in a brief evening standoff at a commuter rail station in Tai Wai in the northern region of the New Territories. In a separate incident, protesters faced tear gas after they surrounded a police station in the Tsim Sha Tsui district on the northern side of the Hong Kong harbour, opposite Hong Kong Island.
Hong Kong is in its ninth week of demonstrations that began in response to a proposed extradition law but have expanded to include other grievances and demands for more democratic freedoms.
Protesters want the resignation of the territory’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and an investigation into complaints of abuses by police.
Also Saturday evening, protesters blocked an entrance to a tunnel that carries traffic under the harbour in the Hung Hom area.
Earlier in the day, afternoon marches went ahead in two areas, Wong Tai Sin and Tai Po, despite a police refusal of permission for the gatherings.
That came after a group of parents staged a separate march, which received police approval, calling for better protection for children following incidents in which ordinary people have been caught in clashes between police and protesters.
“It’s dangerous to bring my child to participate in any protest,” said Natalie Lee, who was with her 2-year-old daughter. “Today’s march provides a good opportunity for us to bring our children to voice our demands and I hope more peaceful protesters will come out too.”
Leung Wai Man, a housewife in her 60s, said she had been motivated to march in Tai Po because she was angry about what she saw as the violent response by police at some protests.
“We are very angry about the police arresting our teenagers,” she said. She said she was worried about escalating violence, but added that “the protesters were just trying to protect themselves against police violence”.
Also Saturday, several thousand people dressed in black held a sit-in for a second day at Hong Kong’s busy international airport. They chanted slogans, set up TV sets to show video of recent protests and handed out leaflets explaining the controversy over the proposed extradition law and demands for universal voting rights.
Demonstrators complain China’s ruling Communist Party and Hong Kong leaders are eroding the liberties promised to the former British colony when it returned to China in 1997.
Opponents of the proposed extradition law said it would hurt the independence of Hong Kong courts and expose residents to political cases. The government has suspended consideration of the proposed law.
Beijing has criticised some protesters as violent radicals spurred on by foreign forces bent on containing China’s development.
For their part, protesters say police have used excessive force and ignored calls for help when thugs linked to triad gangs attacked civilians in a commuter rail station.
Lam defended her government’s handling of the protests in a phone call with Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab.
The protests have strained Beijing’s relations with Britain, which has called on China to honour the terms of their handover agreement and the freedoms its promises.
In the call on Friday, Lam told Raab that while her government “respects the diverse views held by members of the public on various issues as well as the freedoms of speech and assembly, it will not let violence and illegal behaviors disrupt public order”, said a statement issued by her office.
Lam said on Friday the economy was being undermined by the protests, which began in June.
China, meanwhile, demanded that the territory’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways suspend staff involved in the demonstrations. One of its pilots was arrested last week.
Huarong International, the investment arm in Hong Kong of China Huarong Asset Management Co, has instructed staff not to fly Cathay Pacific if there are other options, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters and confirmed by a source at the company.
Lam’s warning about the economy and China’s targeting of a key Hong Kong business mark a toughening stance by authorities as they grapple with Hong Kong’s deepest crisis in decades.