Defying a police ban on a scheduled march and rally Sunday, tens of thousands of Hong Kong protesters took to the streets for the 15th straight weekend on a day that saw some of the worst violence in weeks.
After a peaceful march that began at Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping district and headed west for miles, a faction of protesters targeted a complex of government offices, hurling bricks and Molotov cocktails at buildings.
“Radical protestors are currently occupying Harcourt Road in Admiralty, vandalizing the Central Government Complex and repeatedly throwing petrol bombs inside, posing a serious threat to the safety of citizens and police officers at scene,” the Hong Kong Police Force said in a statement.
Police responded with rounds of tear gas and water cannon blasts, setting off a game of cat and mouse that ran late into the evening. Protesters blocked roads, set fires and vandalized several subway entrances, only to scatter as riot police swept through in large waves.
Several skirmishes and standoffs ensued, with police at one point firing tear gas into a dense crowd outside a subway entrance at Causeway Bay. Violent scuffles broke out between pro-Beijing supporters and protesters in the North Point and Fortress Hill areas, and as police responded, large crowds gathered to jeer and taunt them.
Earlier in the afternoon, as protesters began their march, there was little sign that the movement that has swept through the city since June was running out of steam.
“We are here to tell the Hong Kong government that we are very determined, and to show our solidarity,” said Au Yiu Kai, a 60-year-old retired doctor. “We are not afraid of the police. They can’t arrest all of us.”
A smaller group of hundreds of protesters started the day at the British Consulate, singing “God Save the Queen” and carrying Union Jack flags in a plea for greater support from the country that ruled Hong Kong for156 years before handing the territory over to China in 1997.
Several protesters were also waving American flags on Sunday, reiterating a call from last week for Washington’s support in passing a proposed bill in Congress that would support human rights in Hong Kong.
Crowds chanted slogans and broke into a number of songs that have become a soundtrack to their movement, particularly the recently composed “Glory to Hong Kong,” an unofficial anthem that has spread like wildfire.
The government of embattled leader Carrie Lam made a concession to the protest movement earlier this month in formally withdrawing the extradition bill to China that sparked massive public outcry.
However, many of Hong Kong’s leading activists said that Lam’s move came too late to stem the tide of protests, which have evolved into a movement that seeks to hold onto autonomy in legal and political affairs under the “one country, two systems” arrangement with Beijing that has been in place since 1997.
The protesters have put forth a set of five demands which include not just the withdrawal of the extradition bill, but an investigation into police actions during the demonstrations, amnesty for arrested protesters and direct elections to choose the city’s politicians.
While the anger that demonstrators feel towards police is palpable, the MTR mass transit system has also become a focus of protest and vandalism. Several stations had windows broken and gates smashed on Sunday, as protesters accuse the subway operator, the MTR Corp., of aligning with the government and helping to cover up acts of police brutality.
The MTR, a clean and efficient system that was long a point of pride for the city, is 75 percent owned by the Hong Kong government.
“MTR is betraying the people of Hong Kong,” said Ivan Lu, a protester. “We used to look up to them but they have let us down.”
Echoing the mood of many other demonstrators on Sunday, Lu said that there was no end in sight to the protest movement.
“The government created this,” he said. “If they had withdrawn the extradition bill back in June, I believe none of this would have happened. But now it’s gone too far.”
Hong Kong’s tourism industry has been feeling the brunt of the protests that have at times also targeted the city’s international airport. In figures released Sunday, Hong Kong International Airport reported a 12.4 percent year-on-year drop in passengers in August, its largest such decline in over a decade.