HONG KONG–Protesters threw petrol bombs and police fired tear gas and made several arrests during a march in Hong Kong on Saturday, presenting a big challenge to the city’s leaders ahead of China’s 70th anniversary on Oct. 1.
The march in the Tuen Mun neighborhood, which was approved by authorities, started peacefully as thousands walked down a main street, with some waving flags from the U.S. and other democratic countries. At one point, however, protesters gathered at an intersection along the route to yell at nearby riot police, who eventually charged to disperse the crowd.
Later, a few dozen protesters dressed in black with gas masks and helmets constructed a roadblock in a narrow street near a shopping center and the area’s town hall. They threw bricks in the direction of police and dropped petrol bombs from elevated walkways. Police fired tear gas and advanced.
A Hong Kong government spokesman said protesters vandalized light-rail stops and placed objects on the track, and that some people assaulted a police officer and tried to snatch his revolver. The protesters’ actions “completely disregard law and order,” the spokesman said.
Saturday’s events show that violent protests are becoming more recurrent and could pose a risk to the semiautonomous Hong Kong government during China’s anniversary celebration. Hong Kong has already canceled fireworks planned for that day in response to the unrest.
In the evening, hundreds gathered at a different shopping center near a subway station to mark the two-month anniversary of an attack by a group of white-clad men, which left dozens of protesters and bystanders injured.
That attack helped magnify the focus of the protests from an extradition bill–which would have allowed people accused of crimes to be transferred into mainland China’s opaque legal system–to the conduct of police. Many protesters believe police didn’t do enough to protect people and haven’t made finding the perpetrators of that attack a priority. Police have charged some in relation to the attacks in recent weeks.
Hong Kong leader
has pledged to withdraw the extradition bill, but the focus on police conduct is still fueling protesters’ anger with the government. At the shopping center Saturday, one 33-year-old protester who gave her name as Stephanie said she wasn’t involved in the protest movement until the July 21 attack, which shocked her because she works nearby.
“You can see police around everywhere, really concerned about us causing trouble,” she said, as protesters shouted slogans and sang songs in the mall, which included some luxury stores. “But where were they when we needed their help?”
Police officials have expressed concerns about the increasing violence from protesters and are worried they may have to respond in more forceful ways. One police official said there were situations in the past when lethal force would have been justified but wasn’t used, which is evidence of officers’ restraint.
Some protesters, however, blame the police for the escalating violence. Bess Chow, 24, who was watching other protesters build the roadblocks, said constructing the defensive structures was justified given police actions. She said the government needs to set up an independent inquiry into police conduct, which is one of the five demands of the protest movement. The other demands include the withdrawal of the extradition bill, amnesty for arrested protesters and electoral reforms to allow Hong Kongers to vote for their leaders.
If the government won’t “do something to make the police pay the price, I think this protest won’t stop,” Ms. Chow said.
On Friday, Regina Ip, a member of Hong Kong’s Executive Council, pushed back against the demand for an independent investigation into the police, suggesting that an inquiry from an already existing police oversight panel is sufficient.
“I don’t think we should concede to demands if that’s purely driven by hatred or wishful revenge,” she said. “We should make sure that also the police have a fair hearing.”
—Joyu Wang contributed to this article.
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