Riot police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets in downtown Hong Kong as they repelled tens of thousands of protesters angered over proposed legislation that would allow extraditions to Mainland China.
The street confrontation this month when a small number of protesters stormed police barricades outside the Legislative Council and hurled bricks, bottles and umbrellas at the officers.
The riot police responded by firing rubber bullets, beanbag rounds and tear-gas canisters at the protesters.
The large-scale clashes are rare in this financial hub underscore both the deep-seated anger that protesters feel about the erosion of liberties in the territory and the police’s resolve to maintain order.
The protests, considered the most direct challenge to the authority of China’s President Xi on Hong Kong, grew Friday as thousands of activists thronged the arrivals halls of Hong Kong international airport.
The protesters, initially demanding the scrapping of a bill that would have allowed people to be sent to Mainland courts for trial, are now also seeking independent inquiries into police use of force, the resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and full democratic reform – anathema to Beijing’s Communist Party leadership.
“Just listen to the people of Hong Kong – they’re trying to send a message to Beijing. I don’t think Hong Kong is just another city of China, and I think China has to respect that,” said a protester Saturday but, unlike many fellow demonstrators, praising police for their restraint.
The crisis has begun exposing fissures in Ms. Lam’s administration, with police chiefs and rank-and-file officers enraged at an apology over last weekend’s violence from her chief secretary Friday, apparently made without consultation.
Matthew Cheung, said the government would not shirk its responsibility “and the police’s handling fell short.”
Saturday, government-funded broadcaster RTHK reported an update from Mr. Cheung in which he said he “totally supports” police and the force had “fulfilled its duties in maintaining social order under enormous stress at this difficult time.”
Britain handed Hong Kong to China in Y 1997 amid guarantees that its core freedoms and autonomy, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary, would be protected under a “one country, two systems” formula.
Many fear those rights are under threat now.