Hong Kong police have fired volleys of tear gas to disperse pro-democracy protests and baton-charged a crowd blocking a key road in the government district in defiance of official warnings against illegal demonstrations.
Chaos had engulfed the city’s Admiralty district as chanting protesters converged on police barricades surrounding other demonstrators, who had earlier launched a “new era” of civil disobedience to pressure Beijing into granting full democracy.
Student and pro-democracy leaders late on Sunday urged supporters to retreat due to safety concerns amid speculation police could fire rubber bullets as tensions escalated.
Some supporters peeled away although thousands remained. Chan Kin-man, one of the co-founders of the Occupy Central movement, said its leaders would remain until they got arrested.
Police, in lines five deep in places and wearing helmets and gas masks, used pepper spray against activists and shot tear gas into the air. The crowds fled several hundred yards, scattering their umbrellas and hurling abuse at police “cowards”.
The demonstrators regrouped and returned however, and by early evening tens of thousands of protesters were thronging streets, including outside the prominent Pacific Place shopping mall that leads towards the Central financial district.
“If today I don’t stand out, I will hate myself in future,” said taxi driver Edward Yeung, 55, as he swore at police on the frontline. “Even if I get a criminal record it will be a glorious one.”
A former British colony, Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a formula known as “one country, two systems” that guaranteed a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China. Universal suffrage was set as an eventual goal.
But Beijing last month rejected demands for people to freely choose the city’s next leader, prompting threats from activists to shut down Central in what is being seen as the most tenacious civil disobedience action since Britain pulled out. China wants to limit elections to a handful of candidates loyal to Beijing.
I hope the protesters win, and China backs down. Of course such a back down has to be in a way they can save face,
But if they crack down, instead of back down, I think Hong Kong will suffer from it – many will decide that it is just becoming part of China, rather than having some autonomy, and they could migrate to Taiwain, Singapore and other places.