Hong Kong’s protests descended into chaos once again over the weekend, as police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets in an attempt to quell tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators who had gathered in the streets. Three days of rallies from Friday through Sunday saw demonstrators clashing with police in multiple locations across the city, culminating in two successive nights of some of the worst violence since protests began eight weeks ago, Fairfax reports.
This recent spate of demonstrations comes in response to an incident last Sunday that saw a mob of suspected triad gangsters attacking commuters at a metro station in the town of Yuen Long. Lawmakers and pro-democracy activists have questioned why it took so long for police to respond to the attack, and accused the Hong Kong government of colluding with the pro-Beijing triads. The government has denied these allegations, according to The Guardian, but protestors nonetheless gathered over the weekend to condemn the violent attacks.
Defying police orders not to march in Yuen Long, demonstrators took to the streets on Saturday in a peaceful rally that quickly turned chaotic as authorities fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and sponge grenades into the crowds. The violent clashes continued yesterday and last night as an authorised protest turned into an illegal march involving tens of thousands of protesters, dressed in black and armed with umbrellas and hardhats. The demonstrators spread out through the city, occupying main roads, erecting barricades, and chanting “Reclaim Hong Kong!”
Police again fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the demonstrators, who responded by throwing umbrellas, rocks, eggs, and gas canisters back at them. There were also accusations that some protesters had thrown molotov cocktails and lit fires, while the huge volumes of tear gas drifting through the streets reportedly affected diners at nearby restaurants, including children. Skirmishes between protesters and riot police continued late into the night.
“Even though the protesters are peaceful, they keep throwing the tear gas,” said a 16-year-old named Hinton, who had tears in his eyes after being gassed, according to The Guardian. “I don’t know why they keep throwing.”
“I can’t even count how many rounds of tear gas they used,” said another 39-year-old protester.
In a statement, the Hong Kong government said it would “continue to give full support to police to strictly enforce the law to stop all violent behaviours”—suggesting that demonstrators provoked the violent response by pushing a cart of burning cardboard at police. Protesters were ultimately pushed back through the city and dispersed before midnight. Police said 49 people had been arrested in relation to the protest, for suspected unlawful assembly and possession of assault weapons.
This is the eighth consecutive weekend that Hong Kongers have taken to the streets in what is being described as the region’s most serious political crisis in decades. The protests began in response to an extradition bill, supported by the local government, which would allow China to extradite people from Hong Kong to the mainland. Despite Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s retraction of that bill, and her insistence that it is now “dead”, the protests rage on.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.