Democracy activists in Hong Kong have called a general strike aimed at bringing the city to a halt on Monday as angry protests against Chinese influence escalate.
In the ninth successive weekend of unrest, hundreds of masked demonstrators started fires, blocked key roads, spray-painted traffic lights and hurled objects including bricks at a police station.
Riot police fired tear gas to dispel protesters in a popular shopping area, forcing stores and malls, including Times Square, to close early.
Many flight departures were shown as being cancelled on Monday, reportedly because aviation workers were planning to strike.
“We sprayed the traffic light because we don’t want traffic to work tomorrow and we don’t want citizens to go to work,” said one protester who was clad from head to toe in black.
The protesters, who accuse the Chinese Communist Party of encroaching on their liberties, have adopted flash tactics, shifting quickly from place to place to evade capture and using online platforms such as Telegram to direct hundreds of people.
After a rally in the island’s Western district, where thousands of people gathered on Sunday to urge authorities to listen to public demands, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters.
Some demonstrations finished peacefully, but the activists then blocked roads in the town of Tseung Kwan O, setting up barricades.
They also stopped traffic from entering the Cross Harbour Tunnel linking Hong Kong island and the Kowloon peninsula.
Clad in yellow helmets and black face masks, protesters in the upmarket area of Causeway Bay on the island faced more tear gas.
The gas beat back most of the crowd but some protesters threw canisters back at officers and hurled objects. Some jeered “gangsters” at the police line.
Police said earlier that they had arrested more than 20 people for offences including unlawful assembly and assault after marches on Saturday turned into now-routine standoffs with officers.
Residents in one neighbourhood joined forces with protesters to surround a police station, yelling at riot police to leave.
The activists want an independent investigation into complaints of police abuse and the government response to an attack at a railway station that injured 44 people.
They also want Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign, even though she suspended the bill on extradition to China that initially sparked the protests.
Fears over Chinese influence in Hong Kong have been further fuelled by the arrests of booksellers.
Hong Kong’s government said the violence and illegal protests were pushing the city to an extremely dangerous edge.
A statement said the unrest would harm Hong Kong’s society and economic livelihood.
China’s official news agency, Xinhua, said: “The central government will not sit idly by and let this situation continue. We firmly believe Hong Kong will be able to overcome the difficulties and challenges ahead.”
The protests in the former British colony present the biggest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping in his seven years in power.
“Even if Carrie Lam resigns, its still not resolved. It’s all about the Communist Party, the Chinese government,” said Angie, a 24-year-old activist.
Additional reporting by agencies
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