Asia-Pacific

Hong Kong police fire tear gas to curb pro-democracy protesters

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Hong Kong police have arrested 16 people after using tear gas to disperse protesters who blocked roads and a cross-harbour tunnel.

After the protesters evacuated, the residents took their place.

In one Hong Kong neighbourhood on Saturday, riot police fired multiple rounds of tear gas, prompting demonstrators to flee after they started a fire outside a police station and threw eggs at its exterior. But while the pro-democracy protesters left to occupy yet another district, the residents who were watching from the sidelines descended by the hundreds.

They watched as officers grabbed a woman who was wearing neither a black shirt nor a mask - the telltale attire of a protester. The crowd surrounded the police and yelled: "Let her go! Let her go!"

Unrest In Hong Kong During Anti-Extradition Protests
Riot police charge during a clearing at a demonstration in Kowloon Tong
Getty Images AsiaPac

More than two months of mass demonstrations in Hong Kong have given way to routine clashes between protesters and police. As protesters lead police from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, leaving hastily constructed roadblocks in their wake, residents across the districts have increasingly been caught in the fray.

Not all are supportive of the movement, which began in June against an extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to the mainland to stand trial. It has since morphed into calls for broader democratic reforms and violent acts of defiance against police, who in turn have been accused of excessive force and deliberate negligence.

Police used tear gas to disperse protesters who blocked roads and one major cross-harbour tunnel and arrested 16 people for unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons and assaulting and obstructing officers.

Following a pattern established in past weekends, the demonstrations continued into the night despite police refusal to grant permission for the gatherings.

Protesters react to tear gas during a confrontation with police in Hong Kong
Protesters react to tear gas during a confrontation with police in Hong Kong
AP

Tear gas was fired at a crowd of some 1000 people in a brief evening standoff at a commuter rail station in Tai Wai. In a separate incident, police lobbed tear gas at protesters who surrounded a precinct in the Tsim Sha Tsui district on the northern side of Hong Kong's harbour, opposite Hong Kong Island.

Earlier marches went ahead in two areas despite a police refusal of permission.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the principle of "one country, two systems," which promises the city certain democratic rights not afforded to people on the mainland. But in recent years, some have accused the Communist Party-ruled central government of steadily chipping away at their freedoms.

Demonstrators say they no longer trust authorities after 44 civilians were injured in a mob attack at a commuter rail station last month. The assailants were all dressed in white in an apparent rebuttal to the protesters' trademark black.

Police have arrested more than 500 protesters since early June on charges such as unlawful assembly, carrying weapons and rioting, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.

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