Hong Kong: In fresh clashes, police fire tear gas, water cannon on protestershttps://indianexpress.com/article/world/hong-kong-in-fresh-clashes-police-fire-tear-gas-water-cannon-on-protesters-5954140/

Hong Kong: In fresh clashes, police fire tear gas, water cannon on protesters

The unrest escalated in mid-June over a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.

Hong Kong: In fresh clashes, police fire tear gas, water cannon on protesters
Demonstrators react to tear gas fired by riot police during a clash in Yuen Long, Hong Kong. (Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times/File)

Hong Kong police lobbed tear gas shells and fired water cannons to disperse protesters who had gathered to rally against the Chinese rule in the city, reported news agency Reuters.

The police fired several rounds of tear gas at the people who had gathered on the streets, carrying out a peaceful march from the Wanchai entertainment district and congregating next to the Legislative Council. Protesters took cover behind umbrellas and some even threw bricks at the police in retaliation.

Today’s clashes come in the backdrop of the fifth anniversary of a decision taken by China to curtail democratic reforms in the city. In 1997, Hong Kong, a previous British Colony had decided to return to China.

This is the latest string of protests some of which have turned violent in the past.

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The unrest escalated in mid-June over a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.

A police officer armed with a shotgun looks up at protesters who throw dustbins from an overhead bridge during pro-democracy march in Hong Kong. (Source: AP Photo/Vincent Thian/File)

Police arrests pro-democracy activists

On Friday, the police detained a number of pro-democracy activists and lawmakers in an effort to rein in the movement. Nearly 900 people have been arrested since the demonstrations escalated in mid-June with frequent clashes between protesters and police, who have at times fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse activists.

Since there are no leaders guiding the protesters, people have come up with a slogan ‘be like water’ meaning be flexible. Marchers on Saturday were seen walking on different streets across the city communicating with each other via different hand signals and chanting “stand with Hong Kong” and “fight for freedom”.

Some protesters called it thier duty to protest, Eric, a 22-year-old student said, “I feel it’s my duty to fight for democracy,” he said. “Maybe we win, maybe we lose. But we fight,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow were among the ones arrested by the police on Friday ahead of planned protests, they were, however, released on bail after being charged with inciting people to join a protest in June.

A protester in a gas mask in the Sheung Wan area of Hong Kong. (Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times/file)

International reaction to protests

The European Union’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the developments were “extremely worrying”, while US President Donald Trump said his economic pressure on China was forcing Beijing to take a more moderate line in Hong Kong.

In Washington, US President Donald Trump said he thinks the situation in Hong Kong would have been much more violent if not for the US trade war with China. He said that China wants to make a deal “and they know it puts us in a very bad position if there’s not a humane way of handling the problems” in Hong Kong.

The Amnesty International too denounced the tactics employed by the authorities. In an official statement, it said: “The repeated harassment of pro-democracy activists, combined with police bans on demonstrations, has created a climate of fear for peaceful protesters. It is vital that the authorities send a clear message that those who target peaceful activists with such violence, irrespective of their political views, will face justice.”

China alleges US' hand in Hong Kong protests
Police officers arrest a protester in Hong Kong. (AP/File)

China’s stand on the protests

China, on the other hand, has denied charges of meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs, calling it an internal matter. China has denounced the protests and warned of the damage that the economy would have to incur. Beijing also slammed the ‘foreign powers’, particularly the United States and Britain, of inciting the demonstrators and warned against interfering in the matter.

Meanwhile, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on Thursday rotated its troops in Hong Kong in what it said was a routine operation. Chinese media on Friday reported that fresh military anti-riot drills were held across the border in Shenzhen. “The Hong Kong Garrison of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army conducted the 22nd rotation of its members in the wee hours of Thursday since it began garrisoning Hong Kong in 1997,” the official Xinhua news agency said.

China also enlisted the help of popular celebrities in mainland China and Hong Kong to promote its denouncement of the anti-extradition bill protests. Over the past few weeks, celebrities have been posting pro-China images, messages and music on their personal social media accounts that have in turn been promoted by Chinese government-backed media outlets.

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As Hong Kong prepares for more demonstrations in the coming days and weeks, authorities in Beijing are eager to quell the unrest ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1.

(With inputs from Agencies)