HONG KONG — Hong Kong police fired tear gas Sunday at a public park that was overflowing with thousands of protesters calling for electoral reforms and a boycott of the Chinese Communist Party.
Sporting their movement's trademark black clothing and face masks, rally participants packed into Chater Garden, not far from the Chinese territory's Legislative Council building. They held up signs that read “Free Hong Kong" and waved American and British flags.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. While the framework of “one country, two systems" promises the city greater democratic rights than are afforded to the mainland, protesters say their freedoms have been steadily eroding under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Frictions between democracy-minded Hong Kongers and the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing came to a head last June, when proposed extradition legislation sparked months of mass demonstrations.
The bill — which would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China to stand trial — has since been withdrawn, but protests have continued for more than seven months, centered around demands for voting rights and an independent inquiry into police conduct.
While the protests began peacefully, they increasingly descended into violence after demonstrators became frustrated with the government's response. They feel that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has ignored their demands and used the police to suppress them.
Demonstrators have routinely thrown bricks and gasoline bombs at riot police, who have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and — on rare occasions — live rounds.
The months of unrest have sent the financial hub's economy reeling, as shops have shuttered during clashes and tourists have stayed away.
Hong Kong police gave approval for Sunday's rally, but not for a march that organizers were also planning.
Protesters used bricks, umbrellas and traffic barriers to barricade a road. They ran for cover after riot police appeared around Chater Garden and raised yellow warning flags, telling demonstrators that they should disperse because they were participating in an illegal assembly.
Two officers were bleeding from the head after a group of “rioters” attacked them with wooden sticks, police said in a statement, adding that some also lobbed water bottles and other objects at law enforcement. Others threw paint bombs at buildings in the Central business district, according to police.