Hong Kong, Aug 31 : Tens of thousands of protesters defied a police ban and thronged the streets of Hong Kong on Saturday, with tear gas and water cannons fired at crowds outside the government headquarters, while demonstrators threw petrol bombs and broke through fences around the legislature as the territory entered its 13th weekend of civil unrest.
Although the police had banned a mass rally — planned by the Civil Human Rights Front — scheduled for Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of an “undemocratic decision” of China’s national legislature on universal suffrage in Hong Kong, demonstrators found a way to circumvent the restriction, marching in the name of Jesus Christ.
The protests started in June over a controversial extradition bill — now shelved — which would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. But since then the demonstrations have evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement.
A Christian rally in Wan Chai district morphed into a procession on Saturday and authorities shut down recreational facilities and an MTR station, before more people gathered at Chater Garden for an illegal march, according to the South China Morning Post.
In Wan Chai near police headquarters, the demonstrators threw water balloons filled with paint and petrol bombs onto the building. Several others demonstrated in the Causeway Bay shopping district in the pouring rain. Many carried umbrellas and wore face masks.
Demonstrators – chanting “stand with Hong Kong” and “fight for freedom” – gathered outside government offices and the city’s Parliament, known as the Legislative Council.
In the Admiralty district, some protesters threw fire bombs towards officers. The police erected barriers around key buildings and road blocks, and fired tear gas and jets of blue-dyed water — for the first time — from the water cannon.
The coloured liquid is traditionally used to make it easier for the police to identify protesters.
A day earlier, the police launched a crackdown by arresting prominent pro-democracy activists and at least three lawmakers for their alleged involvement in demonstrations sparked in opposition to the extradition bill.
Saturday’s scenes were reminiscent of June 12, right at the beginning of the unrest, when a large operation began to clear protesters from these same roads outside Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and government headquarters.