Asia-Pacific

Dozens arrested, gunshot fired as Hong Kong protests turn violent

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Hong Kong police used water cannon for the first time and at least one officer fired his sidearm during pitched battles with protesters Sunday, one of the most violent nights in three months of pro-democracy rallies that have rocked the city.

Hong Kong police said on Monday they arrested 36 people, the youngest aged 12, after violence during anti-government demonstrations escalated as protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at security forces who responded with water cannon and tear gas.

Sunday’s protests saw some of the fiercest clashes yet between police and demonstrators since protests escalated in mid-June over a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

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Hong Kong police fire gunshot, water cannons on violent night of clashes
Hong Kong police fire gunshot, water cannons on violent night of clashes

Police fired water cannon and volleys of tear gas in running battles with brick-throwing protesters on Sunday, the second day of violent clashes in the Chinese-ruled city.

Six officers drew their pistols and one officer fired a warning shot into the air, police said in a statement.

“The escalating illegal and violent acts of radical protesters are not only outrageous, they also push Hong Kong to the verge of a very dangerous situation,” the government said in a statement.

An afternoon rally in the district of Tsuen Wan spiralled into violent running confrontations between protesters and police, with officers several times caught outnumbered and isolated by masked youths wielding sticks and throwing rocks.

The financial hub has been gripped by mass rallies that were initially against a proposed extradition bill to China, but have spun into a wider pro-democracy movement targeting the pro-Beijing government.

Earlier Sunday, after thousands of people marched peacefully in pouring rain, a group of hardcore protesters erected makeshift roadblocks and threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at riot police.

After firing tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowds, police drove water cannon vehicles onto the streets for the first time during the protests, unfurling signs warning demonstrators they would deploy the jets if they did not leave.

Protesters take part in an anti-government rally in Kwai Fung and Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, China, 25 August 2019
Protesters take part in an anti-government rally in Kwai Fung and Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, China, 25 August 2019
AP

The jets were later fired down from the moving trucks down a road towards a crowd of protesters who ran away.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Police had previously said the vehicles, complete with surveillance cameras and multiple spray nozzles, would only be used in the event of a "large-scale public disturbance".

Throughout the protests, Beijing has used a mix of intimidation, propaganda and economic muscle to constrict the protests in a strategy dubbed "white terror" by the movement.

The MTR - the city's metro - is the latest Hong Kong enterprise to face public censure, after appearing to bend to Chinese state-media attacks accusing the transport system of being an "exclusive" service to ferry protesters to rallies.

On Sunday the MTR shut stations near the main demonstration area in Tsuen Wan, the second day of station closures in a row.

Riot police guard while protesters take part in an anti-government rally in Kwai Fung and Tsuen Wan in Hong Kong, China, 25 August 2019.
Riot police guard while protesters take part in an anti-government rally in Kwai Fung and Tsuen Wan in Hong Kong, China, 25 August 2019.
AAP

'Enemies of Hong Kong'

"However bleak our future is, we're trying to express ourselves rationally," said Peter, in his 20s, before the clashes began.

"We have faith in ourselves and we have faith in our city that some day our demands will be answered."

A second rally in the afternoon of a few hundred people - some of them family members of police - criticised the government for leaving officers to handle the brunt of the crisis, while also calling for an independent investigation into the police handling of the protests.

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"I believe within these two months, police have got enough opprobrium," said a woman who asked not to be named and said she was a police officer's wife.

The city's officers are often the focus of protesters' anger because of their perceived heavy handling of the rallies.

Ten people were left in hospital after Saturday's clashes - two in a serious condition - staff said, without detailing if they were police or protesters.

Protesters take part in an anti-government rally in Kwai Fung and Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, China, 25 August 2019.
Protesters take part in an anti-government rally in Kwai Fung and Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, China, 25 August 2019.
AAP

Protesters say Hong Kong's unique freedoms are in jeopardy as Beijing tightens its political chokehold on the semi-autonomous city.

The city had appeared to have pulled back from a sharp nosedive into violence, with the last serious confrontation taking place more than a week ago, shortly after protests paralysed the airport.

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