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Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam warned that the city was on “the verge of a very dangerous situation” as a general strike and coordinated protests paralyzed the city Monday. As tensions boiled over, two cars drove through crowds of protesters, and an armed mob attacked demonstrators with wooden poles.
The city was plunged further into chaos as workers from across about 20 sectors, including the civil service, went on strike. Coordinated and simultaneous rallies were held in seven locations, shutting down transport links and spreading the protest movement to virtually every corner of the city.
Protesters occupied and barricaded key arterial roads and shut down metro lines. Workers from the aviation sector joined the strike, forcing the cancellation of more than 200 flights at the city’s busy international airport.
Monday’s protests, the most ambitious and wide-reaching in nine weeks of demonstrations, were met with clashes with police in at least six main locations around the city, and provoked a violent backlash from some frustrated locals. For the second time since the movement began, peaceful protesters were attacked by an armed mob, who rushed the demonstrators and beat them with wooden poles.
The protesters outnumbered the mob, and they fought back. As in last month’s attack by suspected triads on protesters in Yuen Long, many of the attackers wore white T-shirts.
Earlier in the day, motorists drove through crowds of protesters occupying roads on two separate occasions. In Yuen Long, the scene of a brutal attack on protesters by suspected triads last month, a driver got into an argument with protesters before ramming his van through a roadblock, injuring one demonstrator. In the other incident across town, a taxi sped through a crowd of demonstrators walking on the street, appearing to knock at least one to the ground.
Once again, police clashed with demonstrators, firing tear gas on crowds in at least six different locations, from Admiralty district on Hong Kong island to Tai Po in the north.
By about 7.30 pm local time (7.30 a.m. ET) Hong Kong police said they had arrested about 80 people — more that on any single day since protests began in June — with the number expected to continue to rise as confrontations mounted throughout the evening. Police condemned protesters for lighting fires, throwing projectiles, and surrounding police stations, after protesters lit fires outside police stations at Sha Tin and Tuen Mun, and set a tree on fire outside the home of police officers in Wong Tai Sin.
In the northwestern suburb of Tin Shui Wai, riot police fired tear gas and charged with batons at a group of protesters who alleged male officers had committed sexual violence in their treatment of a female protester on Monday. The officers carried away the protester even though her underwear had fallen off during the struggle.
The escalating standoff led Lam, the city’s Chief Executive, to hold a press conference Monday after two weeks out of the public eye. At the press conference, she warned that protesters were challenging China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, and jeopardizing the city’s prosperity and stability.
“The government will be resolute in maintaining law and order in Hong Kong and restoring confidence,” she said.
She said the protest movement had shifted from opposing the extradition bill — now suspended by the government — to challenging the legitimacy of Beijing’s rule of the city. Lam accused protesters of using opposition to the bill as a pretext “to conceal their ulterior motives.”
"Those ulterior motives are going to destroy Hong Kong,” she warned.
Protesters have vandalized symbols of Chinese rule, and some have flown flags calling for “Hong Kong independence,” the invocation of which is a strong red line for Beijing. On Monday, protesters pulled down the Chinese national flag from a flagpole and threw it in Victoria Harbour.
In the wake of Lam’s remarks, the Chinese government bureau responsible for the governance of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, announced it was planning to hold a second press conference on the situation on Tuesday afternoon, a week after their first intervention in the crisis, in which they declared the situation “grave.”
Since then, fears have risen that Beijing may intervene to quash the movement. On Thursday, the garrison of the People’s Liberation Army permanently stationed in Hong Kong released a chilling propaganda video showing armed troops running “anti-riot” drills to quell protests. On Sunday, state news agency Xinhua ran a commentary warning that “the central government will not sit idly by and let this situation continue.”
However, Hong Kong police senior superintendent Kong Wing-cheung told reporters Monday that he believed there was no chance the Chinese military would be deployed, and that Lam and other top officials have repeatedly said the same thing. He said Hong Kong’s police had the full backing of the city’s government, and that there was no need for military support from the PLA.
Cover: A protester throws back a tear gas canister in Hong Kong on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. Droves of protesters filled public parks and squares in several Hong Kong districts on Monday in a general strike staged on a weekday to draw more attention to their demands that the semi-autonomous Chinese city's leader resign.(AP Photo/Vincent Thian)