HONG KONG: Hong Kong riot police on Sunday (Jul 28) fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters close to Beijing's liaison office in the financial hub, the latest clashes in a city gripped by weeks of political unrest.
The clashes are the second consecutive day of violence in a city reeling from weeks of anti-government protests that show no sign of abating.
Sunday's melees took place in a well-heeled residential district close to the Liaison Office, which represents Beijing in the semi-autonomous hub and which was pelted with eggs and paint last week.
Police and protesters had been engaged in a tense standoff for hours after tens of thousands of demonstrators held a series of unsanctioned marches through the city.
Around 200 protesters had made their way towards the Liaison Office in Sheung Wan district where they met a phalanx of riot police who used loudhailers calling for the crowds to end their "illegal assembly".
Hong Kong authorities had earlier erected a wall of water-filled barricades and glued down bricks in the pavement in anticipation of further unrest. A clear plastic shield also covered a national emblem that had been defaced a week before.
Eventually, tear gas and rubber bullets were fired at demonstrators who responded with volleys of bricks and stones as baton-wielding riot police charged and pushed the crowds back down the street.
Scores of riot police were stationed inside the building itself, while vehicles and tourist coaches full of other officers deployed in nearby streets.
The Hong Kong Police Force said in an update on Twitter that protesters were throwing bricks at police officers and that the situation was "drastically deteriorating".
"The police is now conducting a dispersal operation eastward with tear gas used," they added.
The police force also appealed to protesters to leave the area and not charge police cordon lines. Members of the public have also been advised to not travel to the area.
The protesters, wearing helmets, gas masks and body armour responded to the tear gas and rubber bullets with bricks, eggs and other objects, hunkering behind makeshift barricades and umbrellas.
Many hit metallic surfaces with sticks to create a loud beat that sounded down the streets.
In a Twitter post at about 11.10pm, the Hong Kong Police Force urged all demonstrators to immediately leave the area via the Sheung Wan MRT.
Those who refuse to leave will be arrested, they added.
"The Police’s dispersal operation is still ongoing. A large number of protestors are still gathering in the Sheung Wan area. The officers have proceeded with another round of dispersal," the police said.
Specially-trained riot squad members, known as "Raptor" squads, made dozens of arrests, almost all of them young men and women.
Two journalists were seen receiving medical treatment after being injured, while at least one protester was seen with blood streaming down his face.
The clashes ended around 11:30pm when protesters made a hasty and coordinated retreat into nearby subway stations.
Last week, they had pelted the Liaison Office with eggs and paint.
"Some radical protesters acted violently," threatening the safety of police and the public, the Hong Kong government said in a statement early Monday.
Sunday's violence came a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters holding a banned rally against suspected pro-government triad gangs in a town near the border with mainland China. The gangs had beaten up democracy demonstrators there the previous weekend.
Despite facing unprecedented levels of public anger and frustration, the city's pro-Beijing leadership are seemingly unable, or unwilling, to end the chaos.
The office has become a focus for the anger of protesters alarmed by what many see as Beijing's increasing control despite guarantees of autonomy under a "one country, two systems" formula, struck when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
A second, larger crowd massed in the popular shopping district of Causeway Bay, where they built barricades and took over a main thoroughfare but there appeared to be little police presence there.
Millions of demonstrators have taken to the streets and sporadic violent confrontations have erupted between police and pockets of hardcore protesters.
The demonstrations were triggered by a Bill - now suspended - that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.
Beijing has issued increasingly shrill condemnations in the last two weeks but has left the city's government to deal with the situation.
In an unusual move, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office - China's top policy unit for the two cities - said it would hold a press conference on Monday afternoon in Beijing.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said the city was now trapped in a "vicious cycle" where huge peaceful marches that have been ignored by the government end with violence between police and small groups of hardcore protesters.
"You see force being escalated on both sides but then this is a huge imbalance because the police are in possession of deadly weapons. This sums up Hong Kong today," she told AFP.
BATTLE FOR YUEN LONG
Public anger reached new levels a week ago when a pro-government mob of men wearing white shirts and armed with sticks attacked protesters in Yuen Long, in Hong Kong's rural New Territories where many of the surrounding villages are known for triad gang connections and their staunch support for the pro-Beijing establishment.
That brazen assault left at least 45 people taken to hospital, and police were heavily criticised for being too slow to respond.
READ: Hong Kong police ‘stretched’, took longer to respond to train station attack: Police commissioner
In a rare move, police banned Saturday's rally saying they feared reprisal attacks against villagers from protesters.
They also banned a proposed march on Sunday. But on both days protesters simply ignored the orders.
On Saturday small groups of more hardcore protesters, many in helmets and carrying shields, confronted police outside the villages and accused them of protecting triads.
Tensions quickly rose. Projectiles were thrown, and a now-familiar pattern of running battles between police and protesters followed.
Police made 13 arrests Saturday while hospital authorities said 24 people were injured, two seriously.