Santa Fe New Mexican

Police assault protesters holding Hong Kong shopping district

- By Mike Ives and Ezra Cheung

HONG KONG — The Hong Kong police fired rounds of tear gas Saturday evening to disperse anti-government demonstrat­ors, after thousands occupied a major shopping district for hours and some attacked a police station with bricks and paint-filled bottles.

Deep into the night, a broad grid of streets in some of the city’s densest districts was convulsed by violence and tense standoffs between riot police and young protesters in hard hats, gas masks and their signature black T-shirts.

The occupation­s and violence — which came on the first of three days of planned civil disobedien­ce — suggest that demonstrat­ors are determined to keep pressing a broad range of demands for greater democracy, despite signs that their embattled government is taking an increasing­ly hard line.

This summer’s protests, which began nearly two months ago, have thrown Hong Kong, a semiautono­mous Chinese city, into its worst political crisis since Britain handed control to China in 1997. Hong Kong’s government and the police are under pressure from Beijing to restore order as the protests become more unruly and as demonstrat­ors increasing­ly direct their ire at mainland rule.

The initial protests were prompted by opposition to legislatio­n that would have allowed extraditio­ns to mainland China. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s unpopular chief executive, later suspended the bill and said it was “dead.” But she has refused to withdraw it formally, as protesters have demanded, or to make further concession­s.

The protesters are also seeking direct elections, the retraction of the government’s characteri­zation of a protest June 12 as a riot, the unconditio­nal release of all protesters arrested and an independen­t inquiry into police violence against protesters.

Saturday’s unrest began with a police-approved march in Kowloon, a broad peninsula that sits across a harbor from Hong Kong’s main island.

The march drew people of all ages, including some older people who chanted, “Protect our children!”

But some young protesters streamed past the official endpoint, marching south into Tsim Sha Tsui, a harborfron­t shopping area that is popular with mainland Chinese tourists. At one point, they removed a Chinese flag from a pole and tossed it into the harbor — a gesture that drew an outraged reply on Facebook from Leung Chun-ying, a former leader of Hong Kong.

By nightfall, the protesters had brought traffic to a standstill and built barricades across some streets, forcing the area’s luxury boutiques and other stores to close.

Some protesters also stormed into a nearby highway and blocked the exit of a tunnel that crosses under Hong Kong’s harbor several times. Traffic resumed about an hour later as many protesters began retracing their steps north to the neighborho­od where the march had started.

Other protesters stayed behind and surrounded the police station in Tsim Sha Tsui, a district that has rarely been the site of anti-government demonstrat­ions in the past. They threw bricks and glass bottles filled with white paint, spray-painted obscenitie­s on the building’s facade and set a fire outside the station’s entrance.

The police presence in Kowloon was light for much of the day, and the force said early Saturday evening that some of its operations there had been temporaril­y suspended because of “serious obstructio­n.”

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