The anti-government protests continued for the 16th straight week on Sunday, as protesters took over shopping centres, targeting mainland Chinese-linked businesses; vandalised metro stations; hurled bricks and petrol bombs at police and destroyed the Chinese national flag.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at them and made several arrests, but diehard activists mostly stayed one step ahead of them, descending on one location and swiftly retreating to strike at the next.
The protesters had planned to cripple the city’s international airport by blocking access routes, but were blocked by heavy police deployment along road and rail approaches.
The Airport Express train service would only take passengers with flight tickets from Hong Kong station directly to the airport, skipping stations in between to avoid protesters.
Police also set up a block at a toll plaza leading to Tung Chung, stopped vehicles for inspection, and boarded buses to check passengers.
Protesters vented their frustrations yet again on MTR stations, vandalising the facilities and forcing four of them to shut down.
They also occupied shopping malls – New Town Plaza in Sha Tin, V Walk in Sham Shui Po, Metroplaza in Kwai Fong, and Elements in West Kowloon.
At New Town Plaza – run by Sun Hung Kai Properties, which joined other developers in condemning protest violence last month – they started with playfully defiant group activities such as singing and impromptu games, before resorting to vandalism and intimidation.
They marched around the mall, targeting businesses with mainland connections, or those known to have criticised protest violence, and painted graffiti and posted stickers on store fronts.
They also went after food outlets operated by the Maxim’s Group in the mall, such as Starbucks, Simply Life, Jade Garden and Peking Garden. The restaurant group has become a target after its founder’s daughter, Annie Wu Suk-ching, called protesters “rioters” who did not represent Hongkongers.
In another show of defiance aimed at Beijing, which sees the desecration of national symbols as a direct challenge to its sovereignty, protesters trampled over a Chinese national flag snatched from a pole outside Sha Tin Town Hall. The flag was later thrown into the nearby Shing Mun River.
They proceeded to trash the shopping centre, overturning rubbish bins, blocking escalators with debris, soaking the floor with a water hosepipe and smashing television screens. They also vandalised the connecting MTR station, destroying security cameras and ticketing machines, forcing a shutdown.
The protesters then took to the streets outside the mall, setting up barricades and starting fires.
They similarly vandalised Nam Cheong, Kwai Fong, Tsing Yi, and Kowloon stations, leading to the closure of the last three. They retreated each time police arrived to disperse them.
The Tung Chung line was disrupted for nearly an hour late in the afternoon when the MTR reported that some protesters had illegally rushed into the driver’s compartment of a Tung Chung-bound train at Nam Cheong station when the doors opened for passengers to board or alight. Protesters also placed an emergency ramp on the tracks.
At Tsing Yi station, protesters sprayed water and set off fire extinguishers, but avoided clashing with police.
Others made their way at night to the Times Square shopping centre in Causeway Bay, where they unfurled a 30-metre banner reading, “Glory to Hong Kong”, the popular protest anthem.
As the protests continued into the night, Prince Edward and Mong Kok MTR stations were closed. Pepper spray was used on protesters besieging the neighbourhood police station. There was a stand-off outside Mong Kok Police Station, where officers fired beanbag rounds and pepper spray at protesters. The riot squad then had to disperse protesters shortly after firefighters put out a blazing barricade near the police station.
But the trouble did not end there, and shortly before midnight, there were a scuffle between police in riot gear and a crowd whose anger was stoked after officers snatched a man who had been verbally abusive. Pepper spray was again used, and journalists were among those hit. The man was taken into a police vehicle.
At a stand-off near Tuen Mun Police Station, an elderly man was handcuffed and taken away after he approached officers in riot gear with an umbrella. He was pinned down and had injuries on his legs. Nearby, a dozen protesters built a barricade on Pui To Road and yelled: “Release him. Release him.”
In Kwai Fong, a group of around 30 surrounded a young man, accusing him of being a mainland spy, pointing lasers at him and hitting him.
Television footage from a day earlier showed outbreaks of extreme violence, with individuals being attacked by groups of protesters with metal rods, wooden poles, hammers and umbrellas.
Radicals also attacked a police officer trying to make an arrest, snatching his baton and beating him with it, and also attempting to grab his service revolver before he was rescued by his colleagues.
Late on Sunday, a spokesman for the government said it strongly condemned radical protesters’ violent and vandalistic acts in various districts and police would follow up in accordance with the law to bring lawbreakers to justice.
The removal and desecration of the national flag in Sha Tin was a challenge to national sovereignty and might have violated the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance, the government added.
Police later said a 21-year-old man was arrested for removal of the flag.
The MTR Corporation said it strongly condemned the vandalism of railway facilities and the intentional misuse of equipment on trains by protesters. Such illegal acts endangered the safety of other passengers, staff and train operations, it warned.
It also said it was deeply concerned about a suspected arson case at Siu Ho Wan Depot at 3am on Sunday. A 52-year-old employee reported the incident after hearing a bang. A 13cm by 8cm battery was found in the depot. A patch of grass was scorched and there was a damaged cable. No one was injured. The incident has been reported to police.
Earlier on Sunday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor vowed that her government would spare no effort to end the violence and restore order, as she attended an event organised by the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions.