Tear gas, arrests, vandalism and officers beaten as Hong Kong anti-communist rally brought to an early halt
Police fired tear gas and brought an approved anti-communist rally to a premature halt in Central on Sunday, as thousands remained gathered around Chater Garden.
Several plainclothes officers were beaten as they negotiated with organisers shortly after 4pm. Masked protesters beat them with umbrellas, leaving at least two with bloody head wounds, according to AFP.
Rallygoers fled into the Admiralty and Central MTR stations as riot police then swept into the area, though several station exits had been closed.
Earlier in the week, police had given permission for a static rally but had banned demonstrators from marching to Causeway Bay.
The event was originally approved to continue until 10pm.
Protests erupted last June over a now-axed extradition bill. They have escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment.
Sunday’s rally began just before 3pm as speakers called for global sanctions against the Chinese Communist Party.
US President Donald Trump signed legislation supporting Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters last November.
Ahead of the rally, riot police staged stop and search actions around Central with all three water cannon trucks parked nearby.
“We are gathered here today to tell the world that the Chinese Communist Party is violating human rights, religion and democratic development without shame – and without fear,” an organiser told the crowd.
Activist Ventus Lau told the crowd: “If there is any chaos, it will be caused by the police.”
Attendee Mr Cheung told HKFP that he had been protesting since last June: “I watch TV – there is so much injustice everywhere. The police brutally hit protesters who have the right to protest,” he said.
“What will we do this year? I don’t think the gov’t is stepping back… The most important demand is to release all arrested protesters.”
As crowds swelled, black-clad demonstrators began digging up bricks and vandalising traffic lights in the surrounding roads.
Some set fires and built makeshift barricades, according to RTHK.
In full- a two minute battle on Chater Road, starting from a bloody subdue of an old man, followed by generous spray of pepper and firing of pepper balls and closing at climax of tear gas. pic.twitter.com/Kabs0kRXrl
— Xinqi Su 蘇昕琪 (@XinqiSu) January 19, 2020
A plainclothed officer asked Ventus Lau to halt the rally, though Lau only agreed when the officer showed his I.D.
Several officers were then attacked by nearby protesters. “Such appalling acts are not to be condoned,” the force said in a Facebook post.
Tear gas was fired shortly afterwards, as police said that they ordered an end to the rally after some people threw objects at officers and committed acts of vandalism.
Police fire tear gas in Central near Chater Garden a mere 10 minutes after making their announcement to end the rally, with tens of thousands still at the scene.#hongkong #hongkongprotests #antiELAB #china pic.twitter.com/jX1HmUwS4l
Four arrests were made in Central at around 5:45pm.
Aside from some cat and mouse clashes, most protesters and rallygoers left the scene within 30 minutes.
In response to the rally, a government spokesperson said that full democracy can only be achieved when there is consensus that the Chief Executive must also be accoutnabile to Beijing under the One Country, Two Systems arrangement.
“The HKSAR Government deeply regrets that some participants of the public meeting had called on foreign governments to intervene in the affairs of Hong Kong and to impose sanctions. Foreign governments, legislatures or organisations have absolutely no role in matters relating to the constitutional development of Hong Kong and should not express any opinion or take any action in an attempt to influence or interfere in the discussions of related matters in Hong Kong,” the spokesperson said.
On Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam refused to make any further concessions.