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Riot police fire tear gas at protesters as they head towards the central government’s liaison office in Sai Ying Pun on Sunday. Photo: Sam Tsang

Beijing to respond to social unrest in Hong Kong after more violent clashes following protest rally

  • Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office will give its stance and views on the situation – the first time it has held a press briefing on city since the handover
  • Announcement comes as some of Hong Kong Island’s busiest districts again become a battleground between protesters and riot police

China’s top Hong Kong policy office will on Monday respond for the first time to escalating civil unrest that has beset the city’s government since June.

The announcement came as anti-government protesters clashed with riot police outside the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong for a second consecutive weekend.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) under the State Council, China’s cabinet, will hold a press conference in Beijing to give “its stance and views on Hong Kong’s current situation”, according to a central government notice.

It will be the first time the HKMAO has held a press briefing on the city since Britain handed it over to China in 1997. It also suggests the Chinese leadership may have reached a decision on Hong Kong since a wave of mass protests and violent clashes over a now-shelved extradition bill began nearly two months ago.

The proposed legislation would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to jurisdictions including mainland China, where critics say there is no guarantee of a fair trial.

Beijing strongly condemned protesters who defaced the national emblem and spray-painted anti-Chinese slogans on the liaison office building in Sai Ying Pun a week ago, and public sentiment on the mainland towards Hong Kong has become noticeably more negative since.

The liaison office also stepped up security afterwards and installed a protective plastic screen in front of the emblem.

Protesters defied a police ban on marching after a rally at Chater Garden in Central on Sunday. Photo: Felix Wong

On Sunday, a clash outside the liaison office – the symbol of Beijing’s presence in the city – was more muted than the scenes of last weekend, with riot police putting up a line of defence about 200 metres (660 feet) from the building and stopping protesters from marching towards it.

As night fell, officers again unfurled black banners warning that they would use force, firing tear gas at protesters just before 7pm in an attempt to disperse them. The protesters held their line behind a wall of umbrellas and threw projectiles at the officers.

The national emblem on the liaison office building is seen protected by plexiglass on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Gradually, the riot police gained ground and pushed protesters further away from the liaison office, but the crowd did not disperse until well into the night.

For hours, the two sides clashed along Connaught Road and Des Voeux Road – the two main thoroughfares in the central and western area of Hong Kong Island.

The protesters threw bricks, paint bombs and bottles at police, who responded with tear gas and beanbag rounds. Some protesters set fire to a trolley loaded with cardboard and shoved it towards officers. Others were seen carrying weapons like bows and arrows.

Police subdued and arrested at least a dozen protesters.

Des Voeux Road, Central, outside The Centre on Sunday night. Photo: Felix Wong

As of 12.30am on Monday, 16 injured people had been sent to Queen Mary Hospital, the Hospital Authority said. Four had been discharged and the other 12 were still hospitalised in stable condition.

As of 2am, at least 49 people had been arrested for participating in unauthorised assemblies and possession of offensive weapons.

Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu Hoi-kwan said police strongly condemn the “escalating” violence of some radical protesters, including setting fires and throwing large road signs and heavy items from a flyover at officers on the ground.

She did not release the number of tear gas rounds, rubber bullets and sponge grenades that police had used in Sheung Wan and the Western district on Sunday.

As was the case a day ago, Yu could not give information on why a police baton used by an officer during clashes with protesters in Yuen Long MTR station on Saturday had a ring-like object near its tip.

Concerns have been raised by critics who said the attachment could cause serious injury to protesters.

The demonstrators had defied a police ban to march to the liaison office, one of several protests that sprang from a rally at Chater Garden in Central earlier in the day.

At one point, spontaneous protests broke out along main roads on Hong Kong Island, stretching more than 6km (3.7 miles) and running through the city’s financial district Central and shopping area Causeway Bay.

Riot police put up a line of defence to stop protesters from marching towards Beijing’s liaison office. Photo: Sam Tsang

Police approved the Chater Garden rally earlier this week but rejected the application for the march to Sai Ying Pun. But tens of thousands of people ignored the ban and splintered off in different directions soon after the rally in Central began around 3pm.

Shortly after midnight, a government spokesman said, “We strongly condemn the radical protesters who disregarded the law and order and violently breached the public peace.

“We will continue to give full support to the police to strictly enforce the law to stop all violent behaviours with a view to resuming public order as soon as possible.”

The clashes followed another violent, illegal protest in the northern town of Yuen Long on Saturday. Police arrested 13 people on Sunday morning for their parts in the Yuen Long protest, including organiser Max Chung Kin-ping.

“He insisted on going to Yuen Long … which ended in a series of violent acts. Police will never condone this behaviour,” a police spokeswoman said, adding that officers had confiscated weapons including imitation firearms and metal rods.

The warning had little effect on those at Chater Garden on Sunday, many of whom had also joined the previous day’s demonstration.

“I don’t think people will have protest fatigue, even though many of them marched for the whole day yesterday. I, for one, am in for the long haul,” said Ho Yi-lik, a Yuen Long resident who was at both rallies.

The chaotic protests brought traffic in one of the world’s busiest districts to a standstill. Dozens of bus services had to be diverted and many shops closed.

But during another day of chaos in Hong Kong, the city’s top officials – including Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor – spent Sunday at a youth summer camp at the People’s Liberation Army barracks in rural district Fanling.

Hong Kong’s Central Asian students feel the heat of extradition bill protests

In the city centre, protesters vowed they would not stop unless their demands were met.

Third-year university student Aaron Yam, 20, said a key demand was to launch an “independent and fair inquiry” into police handling of the demonstrations.

“The only way out for Hong Kong is to have a fair inquiry into the policing of recent protests,” he said.

Protesters use umbrellas as shields as riot police fire tear gas. Photo: Felix Wong

Meanwhile, a group of civil servants from various government departments issued a statement saying they would organise a rally to support the protesters on Friday, estimating about 500 people would take part. It will be the first time a group of civil servants has joined the anti-government protests.

All eyes will now be on Beijing, but several mainland observers said the central government was unlikely to announce any measure that could resolve the crisis during its briefing.

“It’s likely the officials will reprimand advocates of Hong Kong independence … as well as express support for the Hong Kong government and its police force,” said Zhang Dinghuai, a Hong Kong policy researcher with Shenzhen University.

But analysts expected major policy adjustments were likely to be taking place behind the scenes.