HONG KONG (AFP) – Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets yesterday at pro-democracy protesters who defied authorities to hold a rally on Hong Kong’s scenic harbourfront, the latest flashpoint in months of political unrest gripping the city.
Clouds of acrid smoke wafted across streets usually packed with tourists, including outside the landmark colonial-era Peninsula Hotel, as protesters and police clashed in what has become a weekly ritual.
Many of the protesters wore masks, defying a recent emergency law banning face coverings. But few of those involved in the early clashes had protective helmets and respirators used by more hardcore frontliners.
Tensions built early yesterday afternoon as riot police flooded the harbourside park in Tsim Sha Tsui district where the unsanctioned rally was due to take place.
Officers stopped and searched numerous people, sparking confrontations as the crowds got bigger, many of them shouting at the police. Tear gas, pepper spray and some rubber bullets were fired in at least three different locations as clashes broke out and crowds scattered.
Small groups of hardcore protesters then built barricades and blocked roads in a familiar game of cat and mouse with police.
Some used metal fencing from nearby luxury malls to block the ‘Avenue of Stars’, a famous waterfront promenade. Police said some of their officers were attacked with “hard objects and umbrellas”.
Later in the evening, police fired water cannon at protesters in Tsim Sha Tsui as they faced crowds yelling insults at them. Hong Kong has been battered by nearly five months of huge and frequently violent pro-democracy protests which Beijing and its local leaders have taken a hard line against.
With no political solution on the table, the city’s police have been largely left to deal with the protesters, becoming increasingly loathed by the pro-democracy demonstrators.