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Second night of tear gas as Hong Kong protesters defy China warnings

Sunday’s clashes hit the shopping district of Causeway Bay © AFP / Anthony WALLACE

Hong Kong, China, Aug 4 – Riot police fired tear gas at pro-democracy protesters in a Hong Kong shopping district Sunday during a second consecutive night of clashes, as China delivered fresh warnings over the unrest battering the city.

The semi-autonomous southern Chinese city is reeling from two months of protests and violence triggered by opposition to a planned extradition law that has evolved into a wider movement for democratic reform.

The most sustained clashes on Sunday took place in Causeway Bay, a district renowned for its luxury fashion outlets, where thousands of protesters seized roads and put up barricades. There were also brief tear gas volleys fired in the well-heeled Sheung Wan district.

Riot police fierd teared gas in running battles with protesters © AFP / Isaac Lawrence

The latest unrest came as China’s official Xinhua news agency published a new commentary on Sunday saying “ugly forces” were threatening the country’s “bottom line”.

“The central government will not sit idly by and let this situation continue,” the agency wrote.

Hong Kong’s protests constitute the most significant popular revolt in decades, directly challenging Beijing’s rule as well as channelling rage at both the local leaders and police.

But they have had little luck persuading their opponents who have only hardened their stance.

Protesters use lasers in their confrontations with police © AFP / Philip FONG

“Wanton destruction of public peace and violent attacks on the police will harm Hong Kong’s society, economy and our people’s livelihood,” the government said in a statement late Sunday.

More than 200 protesters have been arrested — dozens charged with rioting — while the Chinese military has said it is ready to quell the “intolerable” unrest if requested.

The last fortnight has seen a surge in violence on both sides with police repeatedly firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse increasingly hostile projectile-throwing crowds.

– Violence escalates –

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This weekend proved little different — but the protests were more fluid.

This weekend’s protests erupted across the city © AFP / Isaac Lawrence

Demonstrators have embraced the mantra “be water” — a philosophy of unpredictability espoused by local martial arts legend Bruce Lee — in a bid to keep the city’s already overstretched police force guessing.

Throughout Sunday evening hardcore protesters popped up at multiple locations, taking over roads, briefly blocking a cross-harbour tunnel, destroying traffic lights and throwing up barricades.

One group of masked protesters tagged a statue of the city’s emblem — a bauhinia flower — with the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong”.

Earlier in the day they pelted a police station with eggs and bricks, breaking many windows. There were two large peaceful rallies before the violence kicked off.

Saturday witnessed similar chaotic scenes as police fought hours-long battles with small groups of hardcore protesters in Tsim Sha Tsui — a harbourside district known for its luxury malls and hotels — after they besieged a police station and used a giant slingshot to fire bricks at the building.

There were peaceful rallies earlier in the day © AFP / Isaac LAWRENCE

Further clashes occurred in Wong Tai Sin, a nearby working-class district where large crowds of angry residents joined protesters.

Protesters have vowed to keep hitting the streets.

Kai Hou, a 41-year-old education worker, said he disagreed with the tactics of more hardcore violent protesters but supported their overall goals.

“Not everyone may approve of their radical acts, but their goal is simple, they want to build a better Hong Kong,” he told AFP.

– Sliding freedoms –

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Under the terms of the 1997 handover deal with Britain, Hong Kong has rights and liberties unseen on the Chinese mainland, including an independent judiciary and freedom of speech.

Protesters light fires near Causeway Bay station in Hong Kong © AFP / Anthony WALLACE

But many say those rights are being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.

Public anger has been compounded by rising inequality and the perception that the city’s distinct language and culture are being threatened by ever-closer integration with the Chinese mainland.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has made few concessions beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition bill, and has shied away from public appearances.

Protesters are demanding her resignation, an independent inquiry into police tactics, an amnesty for those arrested, a permanent withdrawal of the bill, and the right to elect their leaders.

Protesters hope to ramp up pressure on Lam by launching a city-wide strike on Monday as well as seven simultaneous rallies, a feat that would be a rare accomplishment in a freewheeling finance hub where unions have little sway.

The strike action appears to be gaining more traction than previous walkouts in the last few weeks as the civil disobedience campaign intensifies.

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