Police in Hong Kong fired tear gas on Saturday at pro-democracy protesters who defied orders to cancel a rally and blocked intersections across the city in ‘hit-and-run’ demonstrations.
The new protests came after the city’s leader warned she would grant no concessions to the demonstrators, whose movement is now in its third month.
Activists who have embraced the mantra ‘Be Water’ took their commitment to flexible protest action to new heights, splitting up into groups to spread quickly across the city and block roads.
They gathered first in the Tai Po district, despite police denying their request for a march permit there, and quickly faced off against officers dressed in riot gear.
But before any clashes erupted, the demonstrators retreated and split into smaller groups, heading to different locations across the city to block roads and chanting ‘reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our times’.
One group of protesters wearing their movement’s signature black and armed with helmets and gas masks arrived in the Tai Wai district, where they dismantled railings along the road to set up barricades and chanted ‘triads, triads’ at nearby police, in a reference to the city’s infamous criminal gangs.
‘Today is not about standing off with police or guarding a road. It’s more about going to different places and leaving once police get here,’ said a 17-year-old student protester who gave only his surname, Lok.
‘We won’t meet eye-to-eye and will actually create more trouble for them,’ he said.
Riot police quickly moved in and began firing tear gas, sending demonstrators running to the sides of streets and into a nearby bus terminal.
The gas drifted into the nearby subway station, where a mother and child covered their faces along with other travellers caught in the confrontation.
‘I was just walking leisurely nearby and was shocked when I heard they fired tear gas. Me and my friends had to help other older residents to quickly walk away,’ said a 23-year-old who gave only his family name, Tsang.
He said he had not been involved in the protest but supported the movement.
Protesters also briefly blocked traffic in the city’s Cross Harbour Tunnel, and faced off with police in the popular Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district, where tear gas was also fired.
The fresh protests mark the 10th weekend that demonstrators have taken to the streets in a movement that began in opposition to a bill allowing extradition to mainland China but has become a call for greater democratic freedoms.
Demonstrators were also staging a second day of protests in the city’s airport and earlier hundreds of parents and children gathered for a family rally.
Faye Lai attended with her three-year-old niece and said she hoped the demonstration would help children understand the recent tumult.
‘Hong Kong’s future is theirs. We are fighting for rights that children should have,’ Lai said.
Many attendees held balloons and a leaflet was circulated featuring a ‘Hong Kong Protest ABC’, offering ‘demonstration’ for the letter D, and ‘protest’ for P.
Demonstrators have committed to continuing their rallies despite Lam insisting she would not meet their demands, which include direct election of the city’s leader and an investigation into police violence.
‘I don’t think we should just sort of make concessions in order to silence the violent protesters,’ Lam said on Friday.
‘What is right for Hong Kong... is to stop the violence, and to say no to the chaotic situation that Hong Kong has experienced in the last few weeks, so that we can move on.’
Beijing has thrown its support behind Lam and warned protesters that ‘those who play with fire will perish by it’.
China’s aviation regulator on Friday ordered Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific to turn over information on staff working on mainland-bound flights.
It warned that all personnel involved with or supporting ‘illegal protests’ would be banned from flying to the mainland or through Chinese airspace.
In a circular sent to its staff, the airline said it was committed to following regulations ‘in the countries to which we fly, or over which we fly’.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Asia