Hong Kong Protests: Police Attack Activists With Rubber Bullets, Tear Gas and Water Cannons
Large anti-China protests in Hong Kong have been met with violence by police, who have used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons in an attempt to disperse tens of thousands of activists who have taken over the city center.
City streets were once again choked by marchers on Wednesday, as mass action continued against a new proposed extradition bill. The legislation would allow the territory to extradite people wanted by Chinese authorities to the mainland to face trial. It would also allow Hong Kong authorities to freeze assets
Opponents fear the bill would allow China to target political dissidents in Hong Kong and create a mechanism for their removal to face Communist Party courts. This would undermine the "one country, two systems" stance adopted when the territory was transferred from British to Chinese control by the U.K. in 1997. This allows Hong Kong residents personal and political liberties not enjoyed under the totalitarian rule on the mainland.
Wednesday's action followed on from a huge march on Sunday, which organizers said involved more than 1 million people—a figure meaning that one in seven Hong Kong residents took to the streets. The police estimate was lower, at 240,000.
Sunday's march—which had permission from the government—was relatively peaceful, though limited clashes between protesters and police did occur. Wednesday's action was not approved by the government, and activists refused to leave the streets after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that government debate of the controversial bill would be delayed.
The epicenter of the protests is home to many government buildings. These include the Legislative Council complex, which is the seat of Hong Kong's legislature. It was here that violence broke out on Wednesday morning, as police sought to clear the activists who had surrounded the area and blocked roads with makeshift barricades.
Video and photographs from the scene showed police firing tear gas, pepper spray and bean bag rounds at massed protesters. Police also admitted to using rubber bullets. Demonstrators attempted to protect themselves with umbrellas—which became a symbol for anti-Beijing sentiment during pro-democracy protests in 2014.
According to Reuters, some protesters attempted to charge police lines using their umbrellas, but were driven back with batons. The Associated Press said others had thrown rocks and bottles at police lines.
Footage from the scene showed activists fleeing the spreading clouds of tear gas as police warned they would use further force if required. Tens of thousands of people are still massed along the main roads in the city center, though scores have reportedly left the area.
Stephen Lo, Hong Kong's police commissioner, defended his officers' actions when speaking with Radio Television Hong Kong on Wednesday. He claimed the demonstration had become a "riot," and suggested that "protesters would have used metal bars to stab our colleagues" if police did not use tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds to disperse them.
Lo described the situation as "dangerous" and "chaotic," though ruled out the prospect of requesting assistance from China's People's Liberation Army. Nonetheless, Lo urged residents not to enter the affected area.
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