HONG KONG: Riot police and protesters fought running battles in a Hong Kong shopping mall Sunday night as unrest caused by a widely loathed plan to allow extraditions to mainland China showed no sign of abating.
Police used pepper spray and batons against small groups of protesters, who responded by hurling bottles and other projectiles, in a night of fresh violence in the international hub.
Sunday’s clashes took place at the end of another huge rally – this time in Sha Tin a district that lies between the main urban sprawl around the harbour and the Chinese border.
Violence broke out briefly in the afternoon after the rally as protesters seized a junction and built barricades, causing an hours-long stand-off with riot police.
But the worst clashes happened late evening inside a shopping mall where hundreds of protesters fled after police moved on the barricades and then charged into the shopping complex, AFP reporters on the scene said.
Once inside, chaos erupted as police found themselves pelted from above.
At least one officer was seen knocked unconscious and there was blood on the floor of the mall.
Police with shields and batons charged up to higher floors and made multiple arrests in a building filled with luxury fashion stores.
Volunteer medics were also seen to be giving aid to a protester who collapsed.
By 10pm most protesters had left the area.
A month of chaos
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge largely peaceful protests – as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police – sparked by a law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.
Last month, parliament was trashed by hundreds of masked, youth-led protesters in unprecedented scenes.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous hub.
Protesters are also demanding the bill be scrapped entirely, an independent inquiry into police use of tear gas and rubber bullets, an amnesty for those arrested, and for the city’s unelected leader Carrie Lam to step down.
Tens of thousands marched through Sha Tin on Sunday, the fifth week in a row that Hong Kong has seen such huge rallies.
Almost all have ended with violence between police and a minority of hardcore protesters.
“We have marched so many times but the government still didn’t listen, forcing everyone to take to the street,” Tony Wong, a 24-year-old protester on the Sha Tin march, told AFP.
Anger at Beijing
Many protesters see the rallies as part of an existential fight against an increasingly assertive Beijing.
“This is a dangerous moment. Hong Kongers can choose to die or they can live. We’re on the edge, but fortunately we haven’t died-off yet,” said JoJo So, a woman in her fifties who was attending the rally.
On Saturday there were also violent clashes between police and protesters in a town near the border which is popular with mainland traders who buy Hong Kong goods at duty-free prices.
Locals have long complained about over-crowding and spiralling rents caused by the trade.
Beijing has thrown its full support behind Lam, calling on Hong Kong police to pursue anyone involved in the parliament storming and other clashes.
Hong Kong’s government late Sunday said it “strongly condemns these illegal acts” by protesters, saying roads were blocked and officers assaulted.
Under the 1997 handover deal with the British, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and rights like freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being reneged on, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.