HONG KONG: Riot police fired volleys of tear gas and protesters hurled bricks during clashes in a northern Hong Kong town on Saturday (Jul 27), as several thousand activists gathered to protest an attack by suspected triad gang members at a train station last weekend.
Activists pushed ahead with the march mid afternoon in Yuen Long, scene of the attack by club-wielding men, in spite of a refusal by police to allow the protest on safety grounds.
Rocks and bottles were thrown by protesters, who built barricades out of street furniture and umbrellas, creating multiple stand-offs.
Less than three hours after the start of the march, police fired tear gas to try to disperse crowds that had ignored authorities' appeals to leave the area.
In a tweet at about 5.40pm, Hong Kong police said a "dispersal operation" was under way, adding that the report room service at Yuen Long police station has been suspended until further notice.
"Police appeal to people at scene to leave as soon as possible," they added.
As the demonstration dragged on into the night, fresh rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets were fired in a bid to clear a small group of remaining protesters.
Many of the protesters had dispersed as it grew dark, but others stayed put.
Reuters witnesses saw a hard core group of activists with small metal bats, metal and wooden poles and slingshots moving against the tide.
In a tweet at about 9.50pm, police warned that they will arrest protesters if they still refuse to leave.
Multiple rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets fired towards about 200 demonstrators who used umbrellas to shield themselves.
Battles then broke out in the town's station as officers with batons and shields swooped on demonstrators there and made multiple arrests, leaving pools of blood on the floor.
Calm returned to Yuen Long after 11pm, with only some protesters remaining at Yuen Long Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station.
DEFYING BAN TO PROTEST
Public anger has been raging since last Sunday when a gang of men in white T-shirts, armed with poles and batons, set upon anti-government protesters and bystanders in Yuen Long station, leaving at least 45 people needing hospital treatment.
The brazen assault was the latest escalation in seven weeks of unprecedented political violence that shows little sign of abating.
Police have been heavily criticised for being too slow to respond to last Sunday's violence, fueling accusations of collusion or turning a blind eye to the mob - allegations the force has denied.
Weeks of protests in Hong Kong were triggered by a controversial Bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.
In a rare move, police banned Saturday's rally in Yuen Long, saying they feared reprisal attacks against villagers from protesters.
Social messaging channels used to organise the largely leaderless movement quickly filled up with vows from people to join in.
Some suggested holding a "shopping spree" in Yuen Long, others for a mass gathering of Pokemon Go, a popular mobile phone game.
Crowds spilled out of Yuen Long's main station on Saturday afternoon and into surrounding streets where police maintained a large presence. Several banks in the area did not open and many businesses were shuttered
By 4.45pm local time, several thousand had gathered in sweltering heat, many chanting slogans against the police.
"Everyone of us came here on our own initiation," a 25-year-old medical worker surnamed Ng, told AFP. "So I don't think this is an illegal assembly, I've just come here as an individual to tell people my thoughts."
Another woman, surnamed Cheung, said she wanted to show "we are not afraid and that Hong Kongers won't cower in fear".
"The police and (the government) are together suppressing people's freedom to express their views," she added.
Yuen Long is in Hong Kong's New Territories. Police said they arrested 12 people so far in connection with last Sunday's violence, nine of whom have known triad links.
On Friday thousands held a 10-hour protest at the airport arrival hall in a bid to "educate" visitors about their movement - especially those on the Chinese mainland where news is heavily censored.
The protest was peaceful and there was no disruption to flights.