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A protester lies down in the street in front of a row of police officers. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Four arrested after violence at thousands-strong rally over Beijing’s review of Basic Law

Police confirm four people arrested and two officers injured during clash, but no figures given about hurt protesters

Traffic resumed early Monday on Des Voeux Road, marking the end of a tense stand-off overnight between police and protesters outside the central government’s liaison office in Sai Wan.

The clash between officers and the 4,000-strong crowd gathered in the area to protest against Beijing’s intervention in the oath-taking saga saw the use of pepper spray by police, while one officer was allegedly injured by protesters hurling bricks.

Watch: Police chase protesters with batons

Police said in total four people were arrested, including two men and a woman, aged from 39 to 65, for allegedly obstructing police officers. League of Social Democrats chairman Avery Ng Man-yuen said on his Facebook account that he was among the arrested and had been released on bail.

Two officers were injured during the incident. One hurt his or her hand and another officer was hurt in the leg by bricks thrown by protesters. It is understood the officer with a leg wound was injured at Ko Shing Street in Sheung Wan.

Watch: Hong Kong police clash with protesters

Police said no information was available on whether any protesters had been injured.

By 1am Monday, at least 700 officers were deployed to the site, with several hundred more on standby, a police source told the Post. Officers charged at demonstraters, forcing them to leave the area.

Broken umbrellas outside the liaison office on Monday morning. Photo: Dickson Lee
The calm near the office later Monday morning stood in contrast with the violence of the wee hours. Photo: Dickson Lee

In face of the “unfavourable situation”, Demosisto, Student Fight for Democracy, the League of Social Democrats and the Labour Party announced that the rally was over and urged protesters to depart to “avoid sacrifice”.

Officers pushing protesters back. Photo: Edward Wong

At 2am, to clear the remaining protesters, a squad of about 40 officers equipped with batons actively chased rally participants from Wilmer Street to Bonham Strand West. After the chase, the majority of the remaining protesters dispersed.

Officers with shields and helmets were responsible for surrounding the protesters. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

From 2.15am to 2.50am, police tried to get people off the main roads and onto the sidewalks. A few stragglers remained, including an elderly woman who sat in the middle of the road for another half an hour before she packed up and left.

At 2.55am, traffic partially resumed on Des Voeux Road. Cabs and light buses were seen driving into the area. At 3.05am, most of the police officers were dismissed. At 3.07am, traffic on Des Voeux Road went back to normal.

Sixtus Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching at the scene. Photo: Edward Wong
The trouble began after Hongkongers opposed to an interpretation of the Basic Law by Beijing’s top lawmaking body took to the streets for the second time in less than a week to voice their anger with the central government.

At least 13,000 people, many dressed in black and waving colonial-era flags, joined the event, which began at 3pm on Sunday in Wan Chai, according to organisers. But police put the figure at 8,000.

Watch: Police clear protesters at Western Police Station

Officers engaged in scuffles with some demonstrators after they marched to the liaison office from Wan Chai in a departure from the original plan for the protest, which was supposed to end at the Court of Final Appeal in Central.

At about 7.50pm, policeon Connaught Road West deployed pepper spray multiple times against protesters during a stand-off which saw masked demonstrators charge police barricades.

The crowds had for about 45 minutes been urging the police to open sections of the road to the protesters, who had been confined to the pavement. Officers refused, but in the ensuing chaos protesters spilled into one of two traffic lanes.

Some tried to bring down the barricades while others attempted to climb over them.

After repeated verbal warnings and the display of a red warning banner, police fired pepper spray.

Many ran for cover, while others used umbrellas and protest banners as shields. Those sprayed in the face had their eyes rinsed by fellow protesters. Several people were then seen being taken away.

Lo Wing-kei, 22, one of the protesters who was pepper sprayed by police, said she could still feel her face burning four hours after the scuffle.

“It happened in front of the liaison office [on Connaught Road],” she said. “More than 20 people got sprayed.”

“We were just protesting in the spot where people usually protest. But then the police started setting up fences to force people out.”

Protesters run for cover after several police officers use their pepper spray on the crowd. Photo: Paul Yeung

By 9pm the confrontation had spread from the main entrance of the liaison office to its rear, bringing traffic on a section of Des Voeux Road West to a standstill.

Officers in helmets again used pepper spray while protesters shielded themselves with umbrellas.

Traffic on both sides of the building was paralysed.

At 9.50pm the stand-off was still under way. In an attempt to clear the road for traffic, police repeatedly urged protesters to leave the site using announcements through a loudspeaker, which went unheeded.

An unidentified man attempted to act as a representative for the protesters in an effort to negotiate with police.

The University of Hong Kong’s student union offered its offices at the Pok Fu Lam campus as a temporary shelter for any student protesters in need.

By 10.30pm a third battle line was forming near Sai Ying Pun station’s B3 exit. Police said protesters had been rushing the exit and officers would shut it down. Two dozen officers with shields were seen nearby.

The MTR announced all Island Line trains would not stop at Sai Ying Pun station and that all entrances to the station would be closed.

Tse Kwok-wai, police senior superintendent for the Hong Kong Island regional headquarters, urged protesters to disperse as soon as possible during a media briefing at 10.20pm.

He said some had been seen holding bamboo sticks and bricks, and he urged them not to use such items as weapons.

But he stopped short of saying if or when police would clear the area around the liaison office.

A police source said officers were notified that some bricks had been dug out from the pavement by several people on Des Voeux Road West between 8pm and 9pm. The protesters left when officers arrived.

Police use pepper spray against a group of protesters near the central government’s liaison office. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Two men aged 39 and 57 were arrested for allegedly obstructing police officers from carrying out their duties and failing to produce ID cards. One of the arrested men was reported to be Avery Ng Man-yuen from the League of Social Democrats.

At 10.45pm about 400 officers had been deployed to handle the protesters, with hundreds more on standby including elite “raptor” officers.

Police estimated there were more than 200 protesters on site.

“Police will remove them even if they stage a peaceful sit-in to block traffic,” a police source said.

“They will be removed immediately if they use violence and charge police cordons.”

About 12.30am officers came down Western Street from Queen’s Road. Along with the personnel already deployed on Des Voeux Road, they began forcing protesters out of the intersection between Western Street and Des Voeux Road.

While some protesters started throwing bottles at police, the majority of the crowd slowly moved eastward on Des Voeux Road.

The rally organisers, including Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching – the localist duo at the centre of the controversy – as well as lawmaker Nathan Law, announced that protesters should move towards Central.

Police pepper-spray protesters near the liaison office. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Leung said:“We are surrounded by police from many sides. And we are literally in front of the Western Police Station. Staying here won’t benefit us.”

Law said, “We are here to express our dissatisfaction with NPC’s decision to reinterpret [the Basic Law]. I think we have accomplished it tonight. We are currently in unfavourable position, geographically. I suggest we leave now.”

Yau said: “I suggest we continue the rally but in the ‘wild cat’ style. Everyone can do it his way.”

Watch: Raymond Yeung’s report from the standoff outside Western Police Station

Police tactical officers wearing helmets and shields were responsible for surrounding the protesters, while officers in blue uniform (nicknamed “raptors”) from the counterterrorism and airport special unit were responsible for dispersing protesters and arresting and subduing those who put up resistance.

Those identified as trouble-makers were also targets for arrest.

In a briefing at 2am, senior superintendent Tse said police could step up their actions if protesters refused to stop their “violent acts” and leave the scene in an orderly way. Tse also said some protesters had dug up bricks from the ground and attacked officers.

An officer sustained a bleeding wound on her leg and was hospitalised. The incident took place near Ko Shing Street.

Demonstrators and police clash on Connaught Road West in Central after a 45-minute stand-off. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

The rally had begun on a more peaceful note earlier in the day. At 3.30pm, participants started marching from Southorn Playground with the aim of making their way to the Court of Final Appeal in Central.

Event organiser Civil Human Rights Front claimed 1,600 people took part in a similar rally it organised on Wednesday evening. Police put that turnout much lower at 750.

Watch: Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching at protest march

Baggio Leung and Yau participated on Sunday, as did other members of their party Youngspiration. The group urged people to take to the streets and defend Hong Kong’s core values.

“While not everyone agrees with how Leung and Yau took their oaths, an interpretation [of the Basic Law] and the demise of the separation of powers will affect Hong Kong’s economic prosperity, stability as well as people’s livelihood,” a leaflet handed out at the event read.

Protesters on the move on Hong Kong Island. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

As protesters gathered earlier on Sunday, the mood was subdued and the police presence was light, with a few arguments breaking out.

The marchers were joined in spirit by fellow Hongkongers residing in Britain who planned to stage a demonstration outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London at 2pm local time to denounce Beijing’s “most blatant violation” of one country, two systems.

“The National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s interpretation is not solely a domestic matter of Hong Kong,” a rally spokesperson said. “It also jeopardises the conditions laid down in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, an international treaty.”
An elderly man (right) confronts rally participants on Sunday. Photo: Raymond Yeung

The spokesperson demanded the British government stop “kowtowing to the Chinese Communist Party” and re-examine Beijing’s compliance with the declaration.

Meanwhile, Youngspiration again lashed out at Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, accusing him of using the oath row as a political tool to advance his motives.
The city’s leader has launched a judicial review in his own name against a decision by Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen to allow the Youngspiration duo to take their oaths again.

But a forthcoming ruling by the city’s High Court could now be overshadowed by an interpretation by the Standing Committee, which could come as early as Monday morning.

Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang at the event in Wan Chai on Sunday. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

The Xinhua news agency revealed that Beijing’s top legislative body would “point out the direction in how problems arising from the Legislative Council election” should be handled.

The whole controversy escalated ... after the central government decided to step in
Chris Cheung, protester

But protest participant Chris Cheung, 23, described Beijing’s ability to interpret the Basic Law as a loophole in the city’s judicial system that needed to be closed.

“We can’t totally blame Yau and Leung,” the student said of the localist lawmakers. “The whole controversy escalated in a short span of time only after the central government decided to step in.”

A number of families also attended the march on Sunday. A father who would only identify himself as “Ben” brought his two children.

“We disagree with [Yau and Leung’s] actions, but why should Beijing shut the door so fast when the court was still handling the judicial review?” he asked.

He said if the Youngspiration duo were ousted, it would be a great injustice to voters who had cast their ballots for them.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: police use pepper spray on crowds in oaths row