By Andreas Landwhr | DPA |
Police fired tear gas on Sunday as hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong for the latest in a series of demonstrations sparked by opposition to a controversial extradition bill.
While demonstrators have long been sharply critical of the Hong Kong administration, this time the march also took aim at the Chinese leadership, amid fears of Beijing’s growing influence over the semi-autonomous territory.
Following the march, which organizers said was to protest against excessive police force during earlier demonstrations, several hundred people headed to the city’s Chinese Liaison Office. There, some were seen hurling eggs and black paint at the building, while the Chinese national emblem was reported to have been damaged.
The Liaison Office condemned the attack as a challenge to the authority of Beijing’s central government and to the “one country, two systems” principle under which Hong Kong is autonomously governed. The Hong Kong government criticized the attack as a violation of law and order, local broadcaster RTHK reported.
“This is a riot,” the Global Times, a mouthpiece for the Communist Party, wrote on Twitter, condemning the protest.
Pro-government groups were also seen clashing with demonstrators, while thugs in white T-shirts attacked protestors and reporters exiting Yuen Long subway station, according to videos posted on social media.
Meanwhile, some protesters erected street blockades near the local parliament and seat of government, which in turn were secured with 6.5-feet-high barriers surrounding the buildings. Organizers said the march was attended by 430,000 people. According to police estimates, which are generally very low in Hong Kong, there were 138,000 participants.
This was the third mass protest since early June over an extradition bill that would allow for criminal suspects to stand trial in mainland China. Estimates for attendance at the first two events have varied from between hundreds of thousands and up to 2 million people. Protesters say the legislation would erode the former British colony’s judicial independence and put people at risk of politically motivated charges by China.
The government has suspended the progress of the bill through the legislature but protesters want its total withdrawal and for Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam to resign. They are also demanding the establishment of an independent commission to investigate police actions, including the firing of rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray.
Video has also captured officers beating apparently unarmed protesters with batons and shields. Protest organizers complained on Sunday that police had shortened the approved route of their march and changed its course to avoid government buildings.
On the eve of the rally, Hong Kong police reportedly arrested three people in connection with the discovery of a cache of weapons. Police also found clothes labelled “Hong Kong National Front,” which is a pro-independence group.
Police made the find late Friday, after being tipped off, the South China Morning Post reported.
Source: Herald Online