Hong Kong protests: Demonstrators burn barricades and storm train station following clashes with police

Amnesty condemns police use of water cannons and beatings of passengers trapped on trains

Alessio Perrone
Sunday 01 September 2019 19:44
Protesters make their way between Hong Kong International Airport and Tung Chung after a day of violent clashes with police

Protesters in Hong Kong blocked roads in the city with burning barricades after a night of violent clashes with police officers.

Several hundred demonstrators gathered at Hong Kong’s terminal airport on Sunday.

The pro-democracy protesters huddled just outside the terminal following online calls to disrupt transportation,

They wielded umbrellas and wore gas masks to protect themselves from possible teargas fired by police.

Many were heard chanting: “Fight for freedom! Stand with Hong Kong!”

Some protesters rushed to form barricades – which, like teargas and standoffs, have become a staple of the protests. The demonstrations are taking place for the 13th straight weekend and have turned increasingly violent.

“We plan to disrupt activity at the airport to draw attention to what the government and the police are doing to us,” said a 20-year-old protester who asked not to be named.

“If we disrupt the airport, more foreigners will read the news about Hong Kong.”

Mass Transit Railway (MTR), a major corporation overseeing public transport in the territory, suspended train service to the airport, the fourth busiest in Asia after Beijing, Dubai and Tokyo, according to Airports Council International data.

Protesters also blocked buses arriving at the airport but police in riot helmets kept them out of the terminal

Some travellers walked to the airport after the trains were suspended.

At least 26 flights from Hong Kong and 17 to the city had been cancelled as of 7:55pm local time, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.

Police said the demonstration was illegal and protesters had “hurled objects” at officers and charged at water-filled barricades. A statement warned that police were preparing to clear away protesters and demanded that they “stop their illegal acts and leave immediately”.

A separate statement said iron poles, bricks and rocks were thrown onto tracks of the airport train, “seriously obstructing” service.

In the late afternoon, protesters began to stream away. Some attacked a train station in the adjacent Tung Chung area, using metal bars to smash lights and breaking open a fire hose valve, sending water gushing across the floor. They set up barricades on two adjacent streets and set fire to some of them.

Firefighters arrived a few minutes later to douse the blaze.

Protesters occupy a road leading to Hong Kong International Airport (AFP/Getty)

Protesters left the area after police flooded into the train station with riot shields.

Drivers of taxis and private cars on the toll road from the airport picked up protesters to help them avoid arrest.

Elsewhere on Sunday, about 200 protesters huddled outside the British Consulate waving British flags and chanting “Equal rights now!” and “Stand with Hong Kong!” A saxophonist played “God Save the Queen” – Hong Kong was under British colonial rule for 156 years until 1997.

There have been no reports of casualties on Sunday yet.

Saturday marked one of the most tense days since the clashes began. Defying a police ban, protesters demonstrated to mark the fifth anniversary of a decision by China against fully democratic elections in Hong Kong.

Some attacked the central government building with petrol bombs and hurled objects at police, while officers fired water cannons and teargas at protesters as well as live rounds into the air.

In a typical turn of events linked to protesters’ “be water” strategy, most of the demonstration dispersed before police charged – only to flare up again with renewed intensity in a different part of the city.

Police grew more aggressive as the game of cat-and-mouse went on. During the night, officers stormed the platform of Prince Edward metro station and beat people on a train. Videos circulating online show many young men bleeding or limping after officers attacked protesters with clubs and pepper spray in the night.

“Violence directed at police on Saturday is no excuse for officers to go on the rampage elsewhere,” said the director of Amnesty International in Hong Kong, Man-kei Tam, condemning the episode.

Mr Tam said in a press release that police beat people “posing no threat whatsoever”, used pepper spray “in a carriage where people had no means to retreat”, and medics were barred from entering the station. He added that a police officer appeared to aim a sponge grenade launcher at close range to those inside the train.

Mr Tam also condemned the use of undercover officers and blue dye water cannons to mark protesters.

“These tactics pose a real threat to the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to a fair trial,” he said. “The police operation on Saturday only underscores the urgent need for an independent and proper investigation into the policing of the protests.”

An independent investigation into police violence has been one of the protesters’ main demands to broker an agreement.

Demonstrations started over a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China – where citizens have fewer rights – to stand trial. But over time, demands burgeoned to include more democracy and the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam.

Distressing footage shows protester protecting woman as Hong Kong riot police violently storm metro

Under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong residents were promised they would be allowed to retain extensive freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China for at least 50 years after the city was handed over by the UK.

But many in Hong Kong fear these freedoms are already eroding. Films and art have been produced on the subject.

And while commentators have referred to the unrest as the worst political crisis to grip Hong Kong in decades, protests are not new in the semi-autonomous territory.

In 2014, tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators occupied some of the city’s central districts for 77 days to protest against China’s pre-screening of candidates for local elections. This action became known as “Umbrella Movement” – umbrellas were a symbol of passive resistance to police pepper spray.

Additional reporting by AP and Reuters

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