Violent clashes have erupted between Hong Kong police and protesters at the end of a peaceful demonstration against the controversial extradition bill. The incidents took place late on Sunday in a bustling town between Hong Kong island and the border with China.
The scene descended into chaos shortly before 10pm local time (1400 GMT), after riot police chased protesters into a shopping centre in Sha Tin. Police used truncheons and pepper spray against protesters, who threw objects such as umbrellas and plastic water bottles at them. Some protesters were also seen beating a police officer. Several arrests were made.
A sanctioned, daytime demonstration against the bill earlier in the day had drawn tens of thousands of people. The extradition bill’s critics fear it could result in government opponents being sent to China to stand trial in Communist party-controlled courts. The violence broke out shortly after police had cleared the streets following an hours-long standoff with protesters that began in the late afternoon when a small group of protesters threw objects at the police and placed traffic cones on the street, dismantled roadside metal barriers and set up makeshift barricades to separate themselves from police, who formed into a line.
Those standing near the police line put on goggles, face masks and helmets and armed themselves with umbrellas in case police used pepper spray. Noisy protesters chanted: “Nasty police, shame on you!” and shouted “Hong Kong, go!” to boost their spirits.
At about 6.30pm, more than a hundred riot police in green uniforms emerged on the scene, holding long shields. Protesters shouted: “Warrant cards! Warrant cards!” – complaining that police did not have identification numbers on their uniforms.
In a statement late on Sunday, the Hong Kong government said it “strongly condemned” protesters who “blocked roads, violently assaulted police officers and caused a breach of peace.”. On Saturday, police had used pepper spray and batons to clear protesters in a similar protest in Sheung Shui, on the Chinese border, after clashes with protesters who refused to leave after a police-sanctioned march. Police commissioner Stephen Lo said in a press briefing early on Monday that more than 40 protesterswere arrested. He said at least 10 policemen were injured, including one who had a section of his ring finger bitten off by a protester. He also said protesters violently kicked and beat a policeman who fell to the ground in the shopping centre in Shatin when the clashes took place.
The public broadcaster RTHK later said that 22 people were admitted to hospital after the clashes, of whom three were in serious condition. It reported that 11 police officers were injured in the unrest and two lost fingers.
The extradition bill has been suspended and Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has declared it “dead”, but this has failed to reassure citizens, who fear it could be revived. At the demonstration in Sha Tin earlier on Sunday, protesters also urged the authorities to release people who have been detained during protests over the past month, and to investigate police use of force. “Release the righteous fighters! Carrie Lam step down! Shame on the nasty police!” they chanted.
Since 9 June, Hong Kong has been rocked by its biggest political crisis, with millions thronging the streets under the sweltering sun to protest against the proposed extradition law, which many fear could result in government critics being sent to China to stand trial.
The anti-extradition movement has morphed into a bigger movement encompassing a range of different causes over the past weeks. Many Hong Kong citizens say they have felt energised and emboldened by the solidarity and large turnout at recent protests, which have made headlines across the world.
The extradition protests have also reignited a longing for democracy. On Sunday, many protesters also chanted “I want real universal suffrage!”
Hong Kong’s leader is not elected by ordinary voters but by an elite committee accountable to Beijing. Only half of the 70-seat legislature is directly elected, while the other 35 seats are occupied by mostly pro-establishment figures from corporate and special interest groups.
The Hong Kong government has ejected pro-democracy lawmakers and barred candidates seen as pro-independence from running for elections, thereby stripping the pro-democracy camp’s ability to block unpopular policies in the legislature.