Tensions flared in Hong Kong on a weekend that began with the formation of a peaceful human chain across the city and culminated two days later with police firing a weapon and using water cannons for the first time.
In the 12th straight weekend of protests, violent clashes erupted between police and protesters Sunday evening in Tsuen Wan. They came the day after Chief Executive Carrie Lam met with former officials and other prominent figures to build a dialogue that can resolve the crisis.
Police arrested 65 people ages 12 to 52 over the weekend for alleged offences including unlawful assembly, possession of weapons and assaulting police officers, according to government statements. A peaceful sit-in is planned for today at the Revenue Tower in Wan Chai, near police headquarters.
The return to violence followed a peaceful mass march the previous weekend that had fueled hopes of a reset after a period of escalating clashes between protesters and police.
Anson Chan, the city’s former No. 2 official and a member of the pro-democracy camp, said Monday that there was “not much point” in Lam’s dialogue unless she was prepared to consider protester demands, including withdrawing the extradition bill and appointing a commission of inquiry into the unrest.
“It’s all very well to have a dialogue, but if the dialogue leads absolutely nowhere, then this will just add to the increasing frustration and anger felt on the part of the protesters,” said Chan.
An anti-government protester in Tsuen Wan mops the ground with dishwashing liquid to try to make advancing riot police slip.
The Hong Kong police defended the decision by one of its officers to fire a warning shot into the sky Sunday, calling it “the best option” to disperse hundreds of protesters who were charging toward a fallen officer with metal poles and other weapons. Six officers drew their guns during the scuffles, police said.
“Our officer’s life was in great danger,” Yolanda Yu, a police senior superintendent, said at a Monday briefing that started with video footage of black-clad protesters attacking the police. “The use of force was indeed necessary and reasonable. It was to protect any person, including the officer himself, from death or serious bodily injury.”
About 15 officers were hurt in the clashes, Yu said. She also stood by the move by an officer who kicked a person while holding his revolver, calling it a “natural reflex”.
Earlier on Sunday, police for the first time used water cannon trucks to clear barricades set up by protesters in Tsuen Wan and fired multiple rounds of tear gas to disperse people who had occupied roads. Running battles continued into the night, with streets cleared at about 8:30p.m., around the time that the gun was discharged.
Tear gas canisters lined up after police shot them at crowds in Tsuen Wan.
Police also said “radical protesters” in Saturday’s clashes in the Kwun Tong area used electric saws to damage a number of smart lamp posts, and hurled bricks and petrol bombs at officers. Police arrested 19 men and 10 women, aged 17 to 52, for offences including unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapon and assaulting police officers.
The same day, Lam invited about 30 people to a meeting organised at Government House, including ex-transport chief Anthony Cheung Bing-leung and Cardinal John Tong Hon, the former bishop of Hong Kong, RTHK reported. She said the meeting was not a “dialogue platform,” but a gathering to share ideas on how to build dialogue.
“I do not expect dialogue to easily resolve the deadlock, stop demonstrations, or to provide solutions to problems,” Lam said in a Facebook post. “But continuing to fight is not the way out.”