Hong Kong, 17 August 2019 (dpa/MIA) – Hong Kong anti-government protesters dispersed into the streets late Saturday after a tense standoff outside of Mong Kok police station appeared to end in a draw.
Protesters have occupied streets and transport hubs in Hong Kong since early June, when mass demonstrations began against legislation that put citizens at risk of extradition to China. As of Sunday, the Asian financial hub will have seen protests for 11 consecutive weeks.
Protesters gathered at the Mong Kok police station in the early evening, but when riot police suddenly emerged, they began to move away and disappeared into crowds of shoppers and bystanders.
The riot police, wielding batons and shields, then marched through Mong Kok district, prompting cafes and restaurants to suddenly pull down their shutters, but clashes never came.
Bystanders, meanwhile, jeered at police from a pedestrian walkway and threw bags of ice onto police vehicles before an officer pointed what appeared to fire nonlethal bean bag rounds at unarmed citizens.
Earlier protesters threw eggs and shined laser pointers at a group of officers gathered in front of the building’s entrance – an increasingly common tactic to keep police cameras from filming protesters and identifying them later for arrest.
As protesters shouted obscenities, many police responded in turn.
The standoff followed a peaceful march through Kowloon on Saturday afternoon despite rainfall that saw many protesters express anger at police violence over weeks of demonstration.
“I think it is most important that we have to stop Hong Kong police from using violence. As we can see the last few months, many protesters have gotten shot above their shoulders, and this is illegal,” protester Yoyo Wong told dpa. “Hong Kong police should be protecting Hong Kongers, not hurting them. That’s why we come out.”
One older protester who identified herself as Mrs Lai said she was there to support young people.
“We fight for freedom,” she said. “We fight for Hong Kong‘s next generation.”
Mrs Lai said she was angry police had arrested so many young people.
“I think the Hong Kong government totally ignores the voice of the Hong Kong people,” she said. “If we don’t [march], we will lose our freedom.”
While most of the march was peaceful, as it came to an end, some protesters defaced a number of pro-Beijing symbols as they walked, including throwing eggs at the offices of a pro-China political party and defacing the walls of a major trade union that also has strong links.
The European Union on Saturday urged the Hong Kong police and protesters to use restraint as protests intensify.
“There has recently been a rising number of unacceptable violent incidents, with risks of further violence and instability,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.
“It is crucial that restraint be exercised, violence rejected, and urgent steps taken to de-escalate the situation,” Mogherini said.
Protests began on June 9 against a now-suspended legislative bill that would have allowed for criminal extradition to mainland China.
While Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it has a separate legal system until 2047 under the “one country, two systems” arrangement.