It was chaos on Sunday as police arrested more than 100 people and fired tear gas and pepper spray after thousands of Hong Kong protesters gathered in opposition to a controversial security law proposed by China last week.
As the demonstrators and police faced off in Hong Kong, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi insisted that the proposed law be imposed “without the slightest delay”.
The national security law is expected to ban treason, subversion and sedition. The legislation comes after Hong Kong was shaken last year by months of massive, often-violent protests, and repeated warnings from Beijing that it would not tolerate dissent.
With campaigners warning the proposal could spell the end of the city’s treasured freedoms, thousands gathered in the busy Causeway Bay and Wan Chai districts, chanting slogans, as some masked protesters set up makeshift barricades to stop police vehicles.
“People may be criminalised only for words they say or publish opposing the government,” 25-year-old protester Vincent said.
“I think Hongkongers are very frustrated because we didn’t expect this to come so fast and so rough. But … we won’t be as naive as to believe that Beijing will simply sit back and do nothing. Things will only get worse here,” he added.
Riot police were deployed after earlier warnings from authorities against unauthorized assembly and the city’s current coronavirus-linked law banning public gatherings of more than eight people.
As the number of protesters swelled, police fired tear gas and pepper spray to try and disperse the crowd, and later deployed water cannon and armored vehicles.
In a Facebook post, the Hong Kong Police Force said that at least 120 protesters were arrested for illegal assembly as of 4.30pm.
Protesters had dismantled scaffolding on the roadside in Wan Chai, the Hong Kong government said in a news release.
They also set up barricades with stones, potted plants and umbrellas, and smashed traffic lights on Hennessy Road in Wan Chai.
“Police officers are maintaining law and order at the scene and using the minimum necessary force, including tear gas, to disperse the rioters,” it added.
The scenes on Sunday were the most intense in months.
They followed a similar pattern to many of last year’s demonstrations, with police firing tear gas and pepper spray, and protesters pushing back – some throwing objects such as umbrellas at the police.
Bricks were thrown at police vehicles on Sunday, and the window of the driver’s seat in one police car was smashed in, leaving one officer bleeding, according to the Hong Kong police.
Several other police officers and citizens were also injured and had to be sent to the hospital for treatment, the police added.