Hong Kong police storm underground with batons as protests rage

Protesters in Hong Kong threw petrol bombs at government headquarters and set fires in the streets on Saturday, while police stormed an underground rail carriage and hit passengers with batons and pepper spray. The scenes seem certain to inflame tensions further in a city riven by nearly three months of pro-democracy demonstrations. Police had denied permission for a march to mark the fifth anniversary of a decision by China against fully democratic elections in Hong Kong, but protesters took to the streets anyway, as they have all summer.

Police attempt to arrest protesters at Prince Edward station (Ring Yu/HK01 via AP)

They provoked and obstructed the police repeatedly but generally retreated once riot officers moved in, avoiding some of the direct clashes that characterised earlier protests.

Late at night, though, video from Hong Kong broadcaster TVB showed police using batons while on the platform of Prince Edward station and swinging batons at passengers who backed into one end of a train car behind umbrellas. The video also shows pepper spray being shot through an open door at a group seated on the floor while one man holds up his hands. It was not clear if all the passengers were protesters.

Police said they entered the station to arrest offenders after protesters assaulted others and damaged property inside. The TVB video was widely shared on social media as another example of police brutality during the protests. Angry crowds gathered outside Prince Edward and nearby Mongkok station, where police said they made arrests after protesters vandalised the customer service centre and damaged ticket machines.

Hong Kong police storm underground with batons as protests rageA police barricade had been put up to deter protesters (AP)

Hong Kong, a city of 7.4 million people, has been riven by protests for nearly three months. A now-shelved extradition bill brought to the fore simmering concerns about what many in Hong Kong see as an erosion of the rights and freedoms that the semi-autonomous Chinese territory is supposed to have under a “one country, two systems” framework. The mostly young, black-shirted protesters took over roads and major intersections in shopping districts on Saturday as they rallied and marched with no obvious destination in mind.

Authorities closed streets and a station near the Chinese government office and parked water cannon lorries and erected additional barriers nearby, fearing protesters might target the building.

Hong Kong police storm underground with batons as protests ragePro-democracy protesters hold a Chinese flag with golden stars placed in the shape of a swastika (AP)

The office would have been the endpoint of the march that police did not allow. Instead, a group of hard-line protesters decided to take on police guarding government headquarters from behind large barriers that ring the building to keep demonstrators at bay.

While others marched back and forth elsewhere, a large crowd wearing helmets and gas masks gathered outside. They pointed laser beams at the officers’ heads and threw objects over the barriers and at them. Police responded with tear gas, and protesters threw petrol bombs into the compound.

Hong Kong police storm underground with batons as protests rageA protestor prepares to hurl an object at police (Kin Cheung/AP)

Then came the blue water.

A water cannon truck fired ordinary water, then returned with repeated bursts of coloured water, staining protesters and nearby journalists and leaving blue puddles in the street. The stand-off continued for some time, but protesters started moving back as word spread that police were headed in their direction. A few front-line protesters hurled petrol bombs at the officers in formation, but there were no major clashes as police cleared the area.

Protesters regrouped and blocked a major commercial street by piling up barricades and setting a large fire. Smoke billowed into the air as hundreds of protesters waited on the other side of the makeshift barrier, many pointing laser beams that streaked the night sky above them.

Hong Kong police storm underground with batons as protests rageRiot police advance (Vincent Yu/AP)

Firefighters made their way into the congested area on foot to put out the fire. Police in riot gear removed the barricades and moved in quickly.

They could be seen detaining a few protesters, but by then, most had already left. Protesters built another fire, a smaller one, in front of Sogo department store. Police waited behind their riot shields while firefighters put out the smouldering fire with extinguishers.

When police moved in, the protesters had again retreated.

Other groups crossed Hong Kong’s harbour to the Tsim Sha Tsui district, where police said they set fires and threw petrol bombs on Nathan Road.

Protesters are demanding the full withdrawal of the extradition bill, which would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China to stand trial, as well as democratic elections and an investigation into alleged police brutality in past battles with hard-line demonstrators.

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