Hong Kong protests: Huge fire and petrol bombs as police and demonstrators clash

Protests mark 13th week of clashes between police and demonstrators 

Police in Hong Kong use water cannon and tear gas as protesters arm themselves with marbles and bricks

Hong Kong descended into violence on Saturday as protesters and the police clashed multiple times across the city, using petrol bombs, tear gas and water cannon.

Protesters initially gathered for an unauthorised but peaceful demonstration in the 13th straight weekend of civil unrest, but then a group split and attacked the central government building.

In a major violent confrontation, protesters threw petrol bombs and hurled hard objects at police and the building.

While other demonstrators marched elsewhere in the city, a large group wearing construction helmets, gas masks and black clothes – the outfit often used by protesters – gathered just outside the city’s government building.

They approached barriers set up to keep them away and appeared to throw objects at police using a giant makeshift sling.

Police fired tear gas and used a water cannon truck that fired blue-dyed liquid to disperse protesters, staining them and nearby reporters. The tactic has been used elsewhere in the world to make it easier for police to identify protesters later on.

Later in the day in a commercial street near police headquarters in the central Wan Chai district, hundreds of protesters started a huge blaze after they formed a wall out of barricades and set it on fire.

Around 7.30pm local time, many were pointing laser beams that streaked the night sky above them, while some threw petrol bombs into the fire sending black smoke billowing into the air.

Police in riot gear arrived on this scene with more water cannons, extinguished the fire and removed the barricades.

Officers advanced and prepared to clear the street. They made a few arrests and fired tear gas and the water cannon at protesters, who responded with more petrol bombs. But most protesters had already retreated.

Some started another fire on the road in front of Sogo department store, while police took positions nearby and firefighters tried to put out the smouldering fire.

Hong Kong media reported that another group had gathered in the Tsim Sha Tsui district. Police soon caught up and charged protesters, advancing quickly around 10pm. Local media also report that undercover officers infiltrated protesters.

In another standoff police stormed a subway carriage and beat passengers with batons in the late hours of the evening.

While it is unclear what may have sparked the altercation, footage captured by local broadcaster TVB showed passengers cowering and throwing their hands up as riot police burst through the doors.

Activists responded by taking up a corner of the train and raising umbrellas as a makeshift barricade. Officers then left the carriage as the doors closed.

Ahead of Saturday, police rejected an application from the Civil Human Rights Front, a group that has organised pro-democracy demonstrations counting more than 1 million protesters.

But religious meetings do not require police approval, so around 1,000 joined a “Christian march” earlier in the day, marching to a Methodist church and police headquarters. They sang hymns and chanted slogans of the pro-democracy movement.

A demonstrator is detained by police officers during a protest in Hong Kong (Reuters)

Speaking at the rally, Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said Hong Kong citizens would keep fighting for their rights and freedoms despite the arrests of several prominent activists and lawmakers in the past two days, including activist Joshua Wong.

“I do believe the government deliberately arrested several leaders of the democratic camp to try to threaten Hong Kong people not to come out to fight against the evil law,” Mr Lam said.

Some of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists had been arrested in a 24-hour crackdown that critics say was designed to intimidate the movement ahead of Saturday’s demonstration. Officials said the arrests were related to a 21 June protest in which demonstrators blockaded a police headquarters for 15 hours.

Some three months ago, protesters began rallying against a now-shelved extradition bill that would have allowed residents to stand trial in mainland China. But over time, the movement has morphed into a broader demands for democratic reform, an independent investigation into police violence, and the resignation of Hong Kong chief-executive Carrie Lam.

There have been frequent clashes between protesters and police, who have often fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds, amid accusations of excessive force.

Saturday's protest also marked the fifth anniversary of China’s decision against fully democratic elections in the semi-autonomous territory when on 31 August 2014, the standing committee of China’s legislature ruled that Hong Kong would democratically elect its leader, but choosing from a list of candidates approved by a nominating committee.

The Chinese Communist Party has been quick to accuse the US, UK and other foreign powers of being behind the protests and interfering in its internal affairs.

Some believe China would want to quell the unrest ahead of the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on 1 October.

Two days ago, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) moved military vehicles and troops across the border into Hong Kong, but said the movements were part of an “annual normal routine”.

Sally Yeung, a 27-year-old Christian at the religious rally, told Reuters: “Hong Kong has religious freedom.

“We are praying at different check points and praying for justice to arrive in Hong Kong. If they prosecute us simply because we are praying, they infringe our religious freedom.”

Hovering under an umbrella outside the government offices, Eric, a 22-year-old student, said telling people not to protest was like telling them not to breathe. “I feel its my duty to fight for democracy. Maybe we win, maybe we lose. But we fight.”

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Additional reporting by AP and Reuters

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