Hong Kong is braced for fresh demonstrations on Sunday in an area noted for its links to triad gangsters as the police revealed they arrested 29 people during clashes with protesters on Saturday night.
Fears have been expressed among many local residents that Sunday’s march in the district of Tsuen Wan, which has a high proportion of low-income mainland migrants, will also end in violence. Many worry that pro-government gangsters might attack protesters and civilians again. Nearly two weeks ago a group of stick-wielding men wearing white shirts clashed with black-clad anti-government demonstrators and residents in Tsuen Wan, leaving several injured.
A peaceful march on Saturday descended into violence after police fired rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls and sponge rounds at thousands of protesters and beat a number of them as activists hurled suspected petrol bombs, bamboo rods and bricks back at police. The clashes took place at several districts on the Kowloon peninsula as protesters led police in a game of cat-and-mouse across the city.
Hong Kong police said on Sunday those arrested were aged between 17 and 52, and had been detained for unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons and assaulting police officers. Among those arrested was the organiser of the police-sanctioned Saturday march, Ventus Lau, who was held on suspicion of unlawful assembly, Hong Kong Free Press reported.
The violent confrontations took place after more than a week of mostly peaceful demonstrations in the semi-autonomous city. Last weekend saw the first tear gas-free protests after organisers called for peaceful and non-violent expressions. A rally at Yuen Long station on Wednesday turned into a tense standoff between police and protesters but ended without violence. Another rally in the form of a human chain which stretched for kilometres on Friday also ended without incident.
But Saturday’s clashes dashed hopes among many Hong Kong people that peace would be restored after almost three months of continuous protests.
The wave of protests, which started in early June to oppose a controversial extradition bill under which individuals could be sent to mainland China for trial, have morphed into a broader movement in which demonstrators have five demands: the complete withdrawal of the now-suspended extradition bill; the setting up of an independent body to investigate police violence; a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots”; an amnesty for those arrested; a resumption of political reform to allow the free election of Hong Kong’s leader and legislature and Lam’s resignation.
Activists have also planned a city-wide strike and class boycotts at universities and schools in coming weeks.