Hong Kong authorities stepped up security and fired tear gas around China’s main representative office on Sunday as several protests broke out, with anger among the crowds simmering over what many see as an increasing cycle of violence against them.
Protests over the past two months spearheaded by pro-democracy activists against a proposed bill that would allow people to be extradited from the city to stand trial in courts in mainland China have grown increasingly violent.
A march on Saturday against a violent assault the previous weekend, by suspected triad gang members, ended in violent turmoil as riot police waded in to disperse crowds.
On Sunday, a gathering in a park in the city’s central business district began spilling into surrounding roads and black-clad protesters set off in several directions, clogging up major thoroughfares.
Thousands of people headed east, toward the shopping district of Causeway Bay, while another large contingent headed west, toward the Chinese government’s representative office, known as the Central Government Liaison Office.
There, hundreds of riot police blocked activists from advancing toward the building, which had been heavily fortified with water-filled plastic barricades. A clear plastic shield had been erected around a national emblem above its front doors.
Many of the marchers on Sunday chanted slogans against the police. Some held up banners reading: “We rise as one, we fight as one” and “Stop violence”.
“I have been to every protest and I never wear a mask,” said Phong Luk, wearing a Spider Man suit to match one worn by his 6-year-old son.
“I’m doing nothing wrong. It is those in power that are wrong … At this point, there is nothing to be done except for Carrie Lam to step down, because she obviously cannot rule.”
The protests have brought the most serious political crisis to Hong Kong since it returned to China.
What began as a movement to oppose the extradition law that would have allowed people to be sent to China for trial, has taken on broader demands including the resignation of Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam, calls for full democracy and an independent inquiry into what some say has been excessive police force against protesters.
The protests are also one of the most direct challenges to the authority of China’s President Xi Jinping.
The protests appeared to be getting more organized, as well as more violent. On Sunday, activists said they hoped to stretch the police by splitting up their marches.
“The police usually surround us and we have nowhere to go. So we adjust our strategy this time. This is much more fluid and flexible,” said protester Edward Ng.