Police used tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators during Hong Kong protests on Wednesday. The protests sparked when an extradition bill surfaced that would let the Chinese government extradite Hong Kong citizens to mainland China, according to Reuters’ report.
Tens of thousands of protesters had gathered peacefully outside the Chinese-ruled city’s legislature before tempers flared, some charging police with umbrellas.
Police warned them back, saying: “We will use force.”
Ambulances sped towards the protest area as panic spread through the crowd, with many people trying to flee the stinging tear gas, according to a Reuters witness. More than 10 people were wounded in the clashes, Cable TV reported.
Police used pepper spray, tear gas and batons to force the crowds back. Some shops put up their shutters at the nearby IFC, one of Hong Kong’s tallest buildings.
Civil Human Rights Front, which organised a protest on Sunday that it estimated saw more than a million people take to the streets in protest against the extradition bill, accused police of using unnecessary violence.
The protesters, most of them young people dressed in black, had erected barricades as they prepared to hunker down for an extended occupation of the area, in scenes reminiscent of pro-democracy “Occupy” protests that gridlocked the former British colony in 2014.
The violence had died down by early evening under light rain, but tens of thousands still jammed the streets in and around Lung Wo Road, a main east-west artery near the offices of embattled Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
“Didn’t we say at the end of the Umbrella movement we would be back?” pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said, referring to the name often used for the 2014 demonstrations, whose trademark was the yellow umbrella.
“Now we are back!” she said as supporters echoed her words.
Others once again called for Lam to step down.
Opposition to the bill on Sunday triggered Hong Kong’s biggest political demonstration since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “once country, two systems” deal guaranteeing it special autonomy, including freedom of assembly, free press and independent judiciary.
But many accuse China of extensive meddling since, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with local elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialised in works critical of Chinese leaders.
Lam has vowed to press ahead with the legislation despite deep concerns in the Asian financial hub, including among business leaders, that it could undermine those freedoms and investor confidence and erode the city’s competitive advantages.
In a brief evening televised address, Lam “strongly condemned” the violence and urged the city to return to normal as soon as possible.
In a separate interview recorded earlier on Wednesday before the worst of the violence, she repeatedly stood by the introduction of the bill, and said the time was right for it to be debated.
“I have never had any guilty conscience because of this matter, I just said the initial intention of our work is still firmly right.”
She added that “perhaps it is impossible to completely eliminate worry, anxiety or controversy”.