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Hong Kong convulsed by protest as police fire tear gas into subway

Hong Kong police held a prodemocracy protester outside Tsim Sha Tsui police station during a demonstration Sunday.
Hong Kong police held a prodemocracy protester outside Tsim Sha Tsui police station during a demonstration Sunday.(Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

HONG KONG — Hong Kong was convulsed by mass demonstrations and chaos for a second-straight day Sunday, as police fired tear gas into a subway station and authorities accused protesters of attacking officers with gasoline bombs.

The unrest in several downtown districts came in the 10th weekend of protests in the semiautonomous Chinese territory and capped a week in which the protest movement mounted its fiercest resistance yet to Beijing’s rule of the former British colony.

The chaos and uncertainty, in which the police said some protesters threw gasoline bombs at them, came six days after a general strike and street clashes brought much of the financial hub to a rare standstill.

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Those demonstrations prompted Beijing to sternly warn the protesters not to test its resolve and to warn of retribution from the “sword of law.”

Top Chinese officials have said the demonstrations “have the clear characteristics of a color revolution,” a reference to uprisings in the former Soviet bloc that Beijing believes drew inspiration from the United States, and they accused a US diplomat — without evidence — of being a “black hand” bent on stirring chaos in the territory.

For now at least, protesters seem determined to keep pressing their broad demands for greater democracy, in part by using flash-mob-style tactics on the streets that keep the authorities guessing their next move.

The Hong Kong police, meanwhile, appear increasingly eager to clear away the crowds and spray tear gas in residential neighborhoods and popular shopping and night-life districts — even as those tactics outrage residents and help the protesters’ argument that the police force has gone rogue.

The use of gasoline bombs by protesters — which has been fairly rare all summer — in Sunday’s unrest suggested a possible escalation in the movement’s tactics.

The civil disobedience began in the afternoon with a peaceful rally in Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island that had been authorized by the police. The protesters had been expected to march east from the park to nearby North Point, a traditionally pro-Beijing neighborhood and the site of a mob attack on protesters last week.

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Instead, the protesters headed in the opposite direction along a major thoroughfare, bringing traffic to a halt and leaving their next moves unclear.

“We no longer demonstrate based on a schedule, which I think works well,” said Dominic Chan, 26, a protester who works in retail. “We spread to different places, because every arrest means one less protester in the field.”

Some protesters tried to approach the headquarters of the Hong Kong police, west of Victoria Park, but retreated as officers charged at them and fired tear gas in Wan Chai, a downtown neighborhood whose bars and restaurants are popular with expatriates. Police said protesters had also thrown gasoline bombs at officers in the area.

Officers fired tear gas at other protesters in Sham Shui Po and Tsim Sha Tsui, two neighborhoods on the Kowloon peninsula, across a glittering harbor from Hong Kong Island. Police later said that an officer from Tsim Sha Tsui had suffered burns on his legs from a gasoline bomb.

Television footage from Kowloon showed police officers in riot gear charging at protesters and tackling some of them to ground or hitting them with batons. The police said in a statement that some protesters had been hurling bricks at officers, “posing a threat to the safety of everyone at scene.”

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A few districts north, television footage showed police officers firing tear gas into the Kwai Fong subway station, near a police station where protesters had gathered. It appeared to be the first time that the police had resorted to that tactic in an effort to clear demonstrators.

Sunday was also the third day of a peaceful demonstration at Hong Kong International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, for which protesters did not seek police permission.

There had been panic and widespread disruption in the city Saturday, too, as protesters hopscotched around Kowloon and police fired tear gas in several locations. Smaller groups of demonstrators blocked a vital cross-harbor tunnel, barricaded a traffic intersection, and set fires outside a police station in the Tsim Sha Tsui district.

The protests began two months ago in opposition to legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where the courts are controlled by the governing Communist Party. They have since spiraled into Hong Kong’s worst political crisis since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, with protesters demanding the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam.

One of the movement’s biggest events this summer was last Monday, when a general strike and set of protest rallies disrupted businesses and transportation in a city known for its order and efficiency. That evening, men wearing white shirts and wielding sticks briefly attacked a group of black-clad protesters in North Point. Those men were widely believed to be members of local gangs, although no conclusive proof of that has emerged.

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Police made 148 arrests during the general strike, though they did not specify how many were linked to the North Point violence. Ng Wun-yim, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations, later told reporters that the associations had played no part in the street brawl.

“We don’t want to see violence,” he said Saturday. “Hong Kong is a civilized society.”

Still, one of his colleagues, Lo Man-tuen, said that local Fujianese would not hesitate to defend themselves if provoked. And before Sunday’s unrest, there were widespread fears that groups of Fujianese gangsters might again assault protesters in North Point.

Last week’s mob attack was reminiscent of another clash on July 21, in which a pro-Beijing mob beat protesters and bystanders in Yuen Long, a satellite town in northwestern Hong Kong that is not far from the Chinese mainland. North Point residents have been on edge all week, and many stores there were closed Sunday.

Red banners plastered around North Point on Sunday, apparently by residents, urged Fujianese to “protect” their home.

Scuffles later broke out there between some Fujianese men and journalists who were trying to film them, video footage showed, and a young man in a black shirt was assaulted by a group of middle-aged men with sticks. He was later carried into an ambulance on a stretcher with a bloody mouth.

It was not immediately clear why the men had attacked him.

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