HONG KONG: Five people were arrested during overnight clashes in Hong Kong between riot officers and anti-government protesters, police said Monday, as the political violence rocking the international hub shows no sign of abating.
The city has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history following a month of huge marches as well as separate violent confrontations with police involving a minority of hardcore protesters.
The rallies were sparked by a now-suspended law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have since morphed into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory.
Sunday night saw fresh political violence break out in the district of Mongkok as police baton-charged small groups of masked, largely young protesters who were walking along roads and refused to disperse following another massive, peaceful rally earlier in the day.
In a statement issued early Monday morning, police said the group were taking part in an “unlawful assembly” and had been warned that officers would take action.
“Some protesters resisted and police arrested five persons for assaulting a police officer and obstructing a police officer in the execution of duties,” the statement said.
Activists hit out at the police tactics, saying the protesters in Mongkok had remained peaceful as they made their way home and that violence was started by a shield wall of riot officers that had blocked the crowd’s path.
“HKers joined rally peacefully… against extradition bill result in being beaten and assaulted by HK Police,” democracy activist Joshua Wong wrote in a tweet accompanying pictures of at least two protesters with bleeding head wounds.
“Just another example of excessive force used by the police,” he added in another tweet.
Public anger has soared against the city’s pro-Beijing leaders and its police force after officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters outside parliament last month.
Since then the chaos has only escalated. Last Monday, anger peaked as hundreds of youth-led demonstrators successfully stormed and trashed the city’s parliament.
Those unprecedented scenes — and renewed huge marches — have failed to persuade the government, whose sole concession so far has been to suspend the loathed extradition bill.
Protesters are demanding the bill be scrapped entirely, an independent inquiry into police use of tear gas and rubber bullets, amnesty for those arrested, and for the city’s unelected leader Carrie Lam to step down.
They have also demanded authorities stop characterising protesters as “rioters,” a definition that carries much steeper jail terms.
Beijing has thrown its full support behind the embattled Lam, calling on Hong Kong police to pursue anyone involved in the parliament storming and other clashes.
Despite repeated requests, police have not released a breakdown of how many people have been detained in the last month of protests.
A tally kept by AFP shows at least 72 people have been arrested but it is not clear how many have been charged.