Tear gas, water cannon fired as crowds defy Hong Kong rally ban

Agence France-Presse . Hong Kong | Published at 02:21am on October 21, 2019

Hong Kong police fired water cannon and tear gas on Sunday as crowds held an illegal march, with hardcore protesters throwing petrol bombs and trashing businesses, capping a week of anger after the recent stabbing and beating of two pro-democracy protesters.

Authorities had forbidden the rally in Tsim Sha Tsui, a densely-packed shopping district filled with luxury boutiques and hotels, citing public safety and previous violence from hardcore protesters.

But tens of thousands joined the unsanctioned march regardless, showing the movement can still keep pressure on the city’s pro-Beijing leaders after nearly five months of protests and political unrest.

In a familiar pattern, the huge rally began peacefully.

But it soon descended into chaos as smaller groups of hardcore protesters hurled petrol bombs at police, subway entrances and at Chinese mainland bank branches as well as vandalising multiple shops.

Police responded with repeated volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets and baton charges.

Throughout the afternoon a water cannon truck chased protesters down Nathan Road, one of the city’s busiest shopping thoroughfares, leaving it streaked with blue dye from the vehicle’s turrets.

The dye, used to identify protesters, also contains a painful pepper solution.

The entrance to the city’s biggest mosque was painted blue when the truck fired at a handful of people outside. Police said hitting the building was an accident.

As the protesters fled the streets, frontliners stayed behind to slow the advance of riot police, setting fire to makeshift barricades with clashes on-going into the night.

A Xiaomi and a Best Mart store — both mainland Chinese businesses — were set alight.

Tensions were running high after the leader of the group organising the weekend rally, Jimmy Sham, was hospitalised by men wielding hammers earlier in the week.

Then on Saturday night a man handing out pro-democracy flyers was stabbed in the neck and stomach, reportedly by an assailant who later shouted pro-Beijing slogans.

Many on Sunday’s march said they wanted to show they were unbowed by the attacks and authorities increasingly banning public gatherings.