HONG KONG — Protesters and police clashed in Hong Kong for a second straight day Sunday, throwing the city’s business and shopping belt into chaos and sparking fears of more ugly scenes leading up to China’s National Day this week.
Riot police repeatedly fired blue liquid — used to identify protesters — from a water cannon truck and multiple volleys of tear gas after demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails at officers and targeted the government office complex.
It was a repeat of Saturday’s clashes and part of a familiar cycle since pro-democracy protests began in early June. The protests were sparked by a now-shelved extradition bill and have since snowballed into a broader anti-China movement.
“The bill is the starting point of the entire movement, but the movement has moved beyond that,” 31-year-old Andy, who declined to provide his full name, told NBC News.
“This is about a battle against the government, a government who will never listen to its citizens, don’t care about the life and death of its people, but only listens to its ‘superior’,” he added, referring to Beijing’s influence over the semi-autonomous region.
Protesters are planning to march again on Tuesday despite a police ban, raising fears of more violent confrontations that could embarrass Chinese President Xi Jinping as his ruling Communist Party marks 70 years since taking power.
Posters are calling for Oct. 1 to be marked as “A Day of Grief.”
Hong Kong’s government has already scaled down the city’s National Day celebrations, canceling an annual fireworks display and moving a reception indoors.
Despite security concerns, the government said Sunday that Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, will lead a delegation of over 240 people to Beijing on Monday to participate in National Day festivities.
Sunday’s turmoil started in the early afternoon when police fired tear gas to disperse a large crowd that amassed in the popular Causeway Bay shopping district. But thousands of people regrouped and marched along a main thoroughfare toward government offices, crippling traffic.
“So many youngsters feel that they’re going to have no future because of the power of China,” Andy Yeung, 40, said as he pushed his toddler in a stroller. “It’s hopeless for Hong Kong. If we don’t stand up, there will be no hope.”
Protesters, many clad in black with umbrellas and carrying pro-democracy posters and foreign flags, sang songs and chanted “Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom.”
Some defaced, tore down and burned National Day congratulatory signages, setting off a huge blaze on the street. Others sprayed graffiti along walls, and smashed windows and lobbed gasoline bombs at subway exits.
Police then fired a water cannon and tear gas as the crowd approached the government office complex. Most fled but hundreds returned, hurling objects into the complex.
Members of an elite police squad, commonly known as raptors, then charged out suddenly from behind barricades, taking many protesters by surprise. A number who failed to flee in time were subdued and detained in a scene of chaos.
The raptors, backed by scores of riot police, pursued protesters down the roads to nearby areas. Officers continued to fire multiple rounds of tear gas as the cat-and-mouse clashes continued into nightfall.
The demonstration was part of global “anti-totalitarianism” rallies planned in over 60 cities worldwide to denounce “Chinese tyranny.”
Thousands rallied in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, while more than 1,000 took part in a rally in Sydney.
The protracted unrest, approaching four months long, has battered Hong Kong’s economy, with businesses and tourism plunging.
Chief Executive Lam held her first community dialogue with the public on Thursday in a bid to defuse tensions but failed to persuade protesters, who vowed to press on until their demands are met, including direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability.