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Hong Kong police say protesters shot hard objects, pointed laser beams after 'peaceful' rally

Hong Kong police say protesters shot hard objects, pointed laser beams after 'peaceful' rally

Protesters stand on Harcourt Road overlooking the Legislative Council during a rally in Hong Kong on Aug 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong protesters shot hard objects at the Legislative Council building using slingshots and aimed laser beams at police officers, the city's police force said on Sunday (Aug 18) night. 

The police said in a tweet that this posed a "safety threat to everyone on site" and warned protesters to "stop their illegal acts and leave immediately".

Protesters occupying Harcourt Road in Admiralty also paralysed traffic in the area. The police's warning comes after protesters rallied in the afternoon to show their "peaceful" credentials after the chaos from previous months.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong protesters marched to the Legislative Council building on Sunday evening after gathering at Victoria Park in the afternoon.

Several main roads around in Hong Kong Island were closed to traffic.

Protesters gather for a rally in Victoria Park in Hong Kong on Aug 18, 2019, in the latest opposition to a planned extradition law that has since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city. (Photo: PHILIP FONG / AFP) ​​​​​​​

Earlier today, the gathering at Victoria Park stretched to a small protest outside Tin Hau MTR station near Victoria Park, with protesters holding up placards and chanting.

Sunday's protest was described as a "rational, non-violent" demonstration by organisers the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the driving force behind record-breaking rallies in June and July that saw hundreds of thousands of people hit the streets. 

Police had given permission for the rally to go ahead but banned a proposed march.

Protesters flouted that order, flooding the streets on Sunday afternoon as they marched through the heart of Hong Kong Island despite driving rain.

Protesters hold up placards near the Causeway Bay MTR station in Hong Kong on Aug 18, 2019, as they gather for a rally in the latest opposition to a planned extradition law that has since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

Police issued a statement on social media stating both Causeway Road and Hennessy Road were occupied by the participants heading towards Admiralty.

"Police appeal to members of the public to mind their own safety and drivers to stay tuned to the latest traffic arrangements," it said.

On Sunday evening, authorities released a statement asking drivers to avoid major roads in parts of Hong Kong Island.

"A large group of participants are occupying various major carriageways from Tin Hau to Western District. Police appeal to drivers to avoid travelling to the area and stay tuned to the latest traffic arrangements," the Hong Kong government said.

Ten weeks of demonstrations have plunged the financial hub into crisis with images of masked black-clad protesters engulfed by tear gas during street battles with riot police stunning a city once renowned for its stability.

READ: Defiant Hong Kong protesters vow huge rally despite Beijing threats

Communist-ruled mainland China has taken an increasingly hardline tone towards the protesters, decrying the "terrorist-like" actions of a violent hardcore minority among the demonstrators.

Despite the near-nightly clashes with police, the movement has won few concessions from Beijing or the city's unelected leadership.

"If Beijing and Hong Kong's tactic is to wait for our movement to die, they are wrong ... we will soldier on," CHRF spokeswoman Bonnie Leung told reporters.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked passengers from boarding flights at the city's airport and later assaulted two men they accused of being Chinese spies. 

The images damaged a campaign that until then had largely targeted the police or government institutions, and prompted an apology from some of the protest groups.

Sunday's rally at the city's Victoria Park is an attempt to wrestle the narrative of the protest back.

Protesters march near the Tin Hau MTR station in Hong Kong on Aug 18, 2019, in the latest opposition to a planned extradition law that has since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city. (Photo: LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)
An exhausted protester (C) receives assistance from medics at the Tin Hau MTR station in Hong Kong on Aug 18, 2019, during a rally in the latest opposition to a planned extradition law that has since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city. (Photo: LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

"We hope to show to the world Hong Kong people can be totally peaceful," Bonnie Leung, a spokeswoman for the Civil Human Rights Front told reporters.

"If Beijing and Hong Kong's tactic is to wait for our movement to die, they are wrong ... we will soldier on."

China's propaganda apparatus has seized on the weeks of violence, with state media churning out a deluge of damning articles, pictures and videos.

READ: Hong Kong protests: Businesses dependent on tourism reel from massive income loss

BLAME GAME

State media also ran images of military personnel and armoured personnel carriers across the border in Shenzhen, prompting the United States to warn Beijing against sending in troops.

Analysts say any intervention by Chinese security forces would be a reputational and economic disaster for China.

During smaller protest marches on Saturday - which ended without large-scale clashes - many protesters chanted "See you in Victoria Park!" as they left the streets.

Tens of thousands of protesters massed in the park as the rally started on Sunday afternoon, while many others thronged the nearby streets in a show of defiance expected to stretch into the evening.

"I hope more people can make a step forward," protester Ray Cheung, 30, told AFP.

"We have tried many times with peaceful approaches ... I really hope the government can listen to us."

The unprecedented political crisis was sparked by opposition to a plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.

But protests have since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city.

READ: Hong Kong airport protesters 'overstepped bottom line of a civilised society': Government

Under a deal signed with Britain, authoritarian China agreed to allow Hong Kong to keep its unique freedoms when it was handed back in 1997.

But many Hong Kongers feel those freedoms are being chipped away, especially since China's hardline president Xi Jinping came to power.

In the last two months millions of people have hit the streets.

Battles between police firing tear gas and rubber bullets - and hardcore protesters using rocks, Molotov cocktails and slingshots - have since become routine in the city.

Protesters stand at a barricade made of trolleys during a demonstration at Hong Kong airport on Aug 13, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Issei Kato)

Both sides trade the blame for provoking the violence.

Beyond suspending the extradition Bill, Beijing and city leader Carrie Lam have shown no desire to meet key demands such as an inquiry into police violence, the complete withdrawal of the Bill and an amnesty.

Beijing has turned the screws on Hong Kong's businesses, pressuring them to toe the line and condemn the protesters.

On Friday, Cathay Pacific announced the shock resignation of CEO Rupert Hogg after the carrier was excoriated by Beijing because some staff supported the protests.

A day later the "Big Four" accountancy firms scrambled to distance themselves from an advert placed in a newspaper purportedly by employees saying they supported the protests.

Source: AFP/aa

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