HONG KONG: Tear gas was fired in at least four locations in Hong Kong on Tuesday (Oct 1) as protesters hit the streets despite a police ban on rallies.
The Chinese territory has been on edge for weeks in anticipation of violent protests on Tuesday's 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.
Activists are determined to overshadow Beijing's festivities, using the anniversary to step up their nearly four months of protests pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.
Tens of thousands marched through the streets of Hong Kong island on Tuesday afternoon, including in Causeway Bay towards government headquarters in Admiralty.
At about 3.55pm, staff and lawmakers inside the Legislative Council building were told to evacuate the complex "immediately under safe circumstances".
Tensions flared in the residential district of Wong Tai Sin in New Kowloon where police fired volleys of tear gas to disperse protesters outside a famous Taoist temple.
Crowds rallied in nearly a dozen other districts, including Wan Chai and Sha Tin, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets at hardcore protesters in at least four separate locations.
Tear gas was fired in Tsuen Wan, where masked protesters used umbrellas and sticks to beat riot officers after they made a series of arrests. The officers retreated into a nearby town hall after they came under a barrage of projectiles.
Authorities also said protesters threw corrosive liquid at officers in Tuen Mun, posting pictures of a policeman with painful chemical burns to his torso and holes in his uniform.
"The police strongly condemn the violent acts and appeal to members of the public to mind their personal safety," they said.
A protester was shot in the chest after he and his unit were attacked by demonstrators during sustained clashes in the city.
The wounded protester received initial first aid from officers before paramedics arrived.
A black flag - warning of tear gas - was also raised by police in the Sham Shu Po area.
"I’d rather die than have no freedom,” said a college student who identified himself as just Green, speaking outside the Che Kung Temple in the New Territories, where protesters also rallied.
"Three months on and our five demands have yet to be achieved. We need to continue our fight," a protester, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask from the cult film and comic book V for Vendetta, told AFP.
The biggest march remained on Hong Kong island where huge crowds tried to make their way towards the building that represents China's central government, a previous target for protesters. They were halted by lines of riot police who pushes the crowds back.
At one point along the march, protesters threw eggs at a portrait of Xi Jinping and tore down large placards celebrating the 70th anniversary, trampling the discarded slogans under foot.
Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), which has organised previous mass protests, said on Monday authorities had rejected their permit application based on security concerns.
The march was planned from Victoria Park in the bustling tourist district of Causeway Bay to Chater Road, next to government headquarters.
The protests came as lavish celebrations were taking place in Beijing, including a huge military parade through Tiananmen Square attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Among those watching the parade was Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.
In Hong Kong, hundreds of officials and members of the pro-establishment elite began the day with a flag-raising ceremony and National Day reception at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, held early and moved behind closed doors. Roads to the centre were closed and tightly policed.
Hong Kong has benefited from China's support under the "one country, two systems" policy, Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung told the assembly, referring to guarantees of political freedoms after the city's handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
READ: President Xi says 'no force' can shake the Chinese nation as country marks 70 years of communist rule
However, he said the "escalating violence of some radical protesters, including unlawful assemblies and blockage of roads, petrol bomb hurling, arson and attacks on other citizens, has not only disrupted social order but also posed a severe challenge to the rule of law, affecting the safety and normal lives of citizens".
The protests had "further hit the local economy, which is already facing downward pressure", he added.
The protests have taken a heavy toll on shopping malls that house some of the world's best-known luxury brands, with many closing early in recent weeks amid escalating violence.
The IFC mall, close to the city centre, was closed on Tuesday. One of Hong Kong's largest upscale shopping centres, IFC houses an Apple store, jewellers Tiffany & Co and Chow Sang Sang, cosmetics maker L'Occitane and luxury retailer Gucci.
The closure of IFC and several other malls means retailers will miss out on what would normally be a busy shopping week, when mainland tour groups traditionally flood in for the annual Golden Week holiday.
Latest data showed visitor arrivals plunged 39 per cent in August from a year earlier, with the number of mainland tourists to Hong Kong dropping 42.3 per cent over the period.
Cheung called a first "open dialogue" last week with citizens an important step and said more would follow.
A group of protesters outside the venue shouted "No national day celebrations, only national day mourning", and called for those arrested during recent clashes to be released.
At a nearby station, police fired pepper spray to break up a scuffle between Beijing supporters and lawmakers.
Rail operator MTR Corp closed some flash-point metro stations.
The government of embattled leader Carrie Lam has already cancelled an annual Oct 1 fireworks display over the city’s Victoria Harbour, citing public safety.
In contrast to events in Hong Kong, Beijing’s carefully choreographed anniversary festivities included troops marching through part of Tiananmen Square with new missiles and floats celebrating the country’s technological prowess.
The Communist Party leadership is determined to project an image of national strength and unity in the face of challenges including Hong Kong’s unrest, slowing economic growth and a trade war with the United States.
“On our journey forward, we must uphold the principles of peaceful reunification and one country, two systems; maintain lasting prosperity and stability in Hong Kong and Macau ... and continue to strive for the motherland’s complete reunification,” Xi said in his nationally televised speech in Beijing.
Hong Kong protesters are angry about what they see as creeping Chinese interference in the Asian financial centre.
China dismisses the accusation and has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of fanning anti-China sentiment.
Last month, Beijing moved thousands of troops across the border into the city. The Xinhua state news agency described the movement as routine rotation.
Asian and Western envoys in Hong Kong, however, have said the absence of any evidence that troops had been withdrawn suggested it was a reinforcement, with the largest-ever regular army force now stationed in the city.
The European Union called for "de-escalation and restraint" in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
"In light of the continuing unrest and violence in Hong Kong, the European Union continues to stress that dialogue, de-escalation and restraint are the only way forward," EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters.
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