Asia-Pacific

Fresh Hong Kong clashes outside mall, but airport avoids disruption

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Protesters in Hong Kong attempted to target the airport after a night of widespread and violent street clashes in the Chinese-ruled territory.

Pro-democracy protesters clashed with riot police outside a mall on Sunday, with some activists vandalising a nearby subway station and defacing a Chinese flag, but plans to disrupt the airport did not materialise.

Police fired brief volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets in the northern town of Sha Tin late Sunday afternoon, capping a day which saw thousands rally peacefully inside a mall before the mood soured.

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Authorities reduced rail and bus links to the city's airport while police stepped up security checks in a successful bid to stop a crowd from massing at the bustling transport hub.

Online forums used by the largely leaderless movement had called for a "stress test" of the airport on Sunday, code for disrupting travel links or occupying buildings.

A resident sympathetic to protesters clash with riot police officers during an anti-government rally in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong.

But in a bid to stop large numbers of protesters making their way to the airport, transport operators reduced the number of stations the city's Airport Express train would stop at and also pared down bus services.

But the security rollout and reduced travel links appeared to put protesters off massing at the airport. 

Instead, thousands gathered inside a mall in the northern town of Sha Tin to sing protest songs and make origami cranes, the latest rally in what has now been 16 consecutive weekends of protests and clashes.

Many shops inside the mall shuttered but the unsanctioned rally remained civil for much of the afternoon. 

"Even if we are very tired, we can't give up on our rights," a teacher at the rally, who have her surname as Ching, told AFP. 

"If it (the movement) stretches to 100 days, 200 days or even 1,000 days and we still don't get what we want, we will continue to come out."

Millions of pro-democracy supporters have taken to Hong Kong's streets for the past three months in the biggest challenge to China's rule since the city's handover from Britain in 1997.

With few protester demands met, violent clashes have become more intense and frequent.

olice confronts protesters in Hong Kong.

Early on in the movement protests at the airport were peaceful, with good-natured crowds of activists using the arrival hall to educate travellers about their goals.

Protesters then took a more hardline approach in a bid to ramp up pressure on Beijing and city leaders by denting Hong Kong's reputation as a stable business destination.

In late August, flights were severely disrupted for two days after crowds occupied the arrival and departure halls, physically halting passengers from taking flights and later beating two men they accused of being Chinese mainland spies.

A third major disruption occurred on 1 September when road and rail links to the airport were blocked, forcing many travellers to abandon vehicles and drag their luggage for kilometres.

Mall singing

In recent weeks police have shown a better ability to stymie attempts to disrupt the airport.

A promised "stress test" on 7 September failed to materialise when riot police fanned out across major stations, and train and bus services were reduced.

It is the 16th consecutive weekend Hong Kong has seen rallies or clashes.

The protests were ignited by a now-abandoned plan to allow extraditions to authoritarian mainland China, but after Beijing and local leaders took a hard line the movement snowballed and became much wider.

Core demands from protesters include an inquiry into the police, an amnesty for those arrested and universal suffrage - all rejected by authorities and Beijing.

Earlier this month city leader Carrie Lam abandoned the extradition bill and called for dialogue but the concessions were viewed as too little, too late by many.

As a result, the protests show little sign of abating.

On Saturday police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hardcore activists throwing rocks and petrol bombs in two towns near the border with mainland China.

On Sunday afternoon hundreds gathered in a mall in the district of Sha Tin to sing a popular protest anthem.

Protesters are aiming to draw out large crowds next weekend - the fifth anniversary of the start of a previous round of failed democracy protests - and on 1 October, the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China.

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