Hong Kong police fired tear gas and nonlethal bullets at anti-government protesters on Sunday evening as demonstrations escalated across the city following a peaceful march to the U.S. consulate that drew thousands of residents.
Nonlethal shots were fired at protesters without warning after around 100 gathered at Mong Kok police station in the area of Kowloon, chanting that police were “gangsters.”
Riot police soon appeared on the scene as protesters melted into side streets.
Protesters have gathered near the police building every night for the past week, leaving funeral offerings at an adjacent subway station entrance where residents widely believe someone was killed when police cleared the station at a demonstration last week.
On Sunday, many continued to burn paper money and light candle sand incense even as protesters built barricades nearby and police warned protesters via loudspeaker to stand down.
Earlier rounds of tear gas were fired off in Causeway Bay, a shopping district across the harbour on Hong Kong Island, where protesters had gathered by the thousands following the U.S. consulate march.
As they walked, many built barricades and lit trash cans on fire in a bid to slow down police.
Most, however, had left by the time riot police arrived, leaving them to gas mostly journalists and bystanders who shouted at officers.
Several arrests were also made as dozens of officers surrounded small groups of suspected protesters.
Riot police were stationed across the city for most of Sunday including subway stations near where demonstrations were expected to occur, cutting off avenues of escape for protesters who were forced to change clothes and leave on foot in a bid to avoid arrest.
Earlier on Sunday, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents marched to the U.S. consulate in the afternoon as part of a police-approved march to deliver a petition asking the U.S. Congress to sign a bill containing punitive measures for officials found to have suppressed “basic freedoms”.
“We hope the U.S. government can pass the act so Hong Kong’s autonomy can be maintained.
“I think the ultimate goal is to let Hong Kong be Hong Kong,” said Wendy, an accountant taking part in the protest.
Protesters carried U.S. flags and signs in English like “Resist Beijing, liberate Hong Kong” and “Sanctions against those [who] trample freedom, justice and humanity” as they marched through the hilly streets of central Hong Kong island.
Many chanted slogans like “Five demands, not one less” and held up their hands displaying five fingers in a call for leader Carrie Lam to meet all of their demands.
Others sang the U.S. national anthem as they marched below the sprawling diplomatic complex under the watchful eye of scores of riot police stationed along the way, drawing the ire of many protesters who shouted that they were “gangsters” in Cantonese.
Lam formally withdrew an extradition bill earlier this week that was the trigger for the start of the protests three months ago, but the move has failed to quell the demonstrations.
The bill would have amended Hong Kong law to allow for residents to be extradited to mainland China.
Since protests began on June 9, they have escalated into a mass anti-government demonstration with demands including calls for electoral reform.
Protesters have said they will continue to demonstrate until all of their demands are met.
The focus of Sunday’s rally was the handing over of a petition calling for U.S. legislators to sign off on the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
The act – due to be debated at committee level in Congress – would allow the U.S. the revoke the visa or freeze assets of Hong Kong residents who were found to have harmed human rights in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Protester Steve Nip said many in Hong Kong felt there was no one else to hold the city’s leadership accountable as they are rubber-stamped by Beijing.
He and others were also angry that Lam has failed to set up an independent commission reviewing police violence during the protests.
Lam has instead said actions will be reviewed by an existing police committee.
Nip said police had behaved in an “inhumane” manner when they arrested protesters but were now accountable to no one.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
It was promised special rights and privileges until 2047 under the “one country, two systems” agreement. (dpa/NAN)