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Shops shut, traffic blocked as protests again roil Hong Kong

  • Published at 05:52 am August 3rd, 2019
Hong Kong
Protesters hold a US flag as they gather in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong on August 3, 2019 AFP

Tens of thousands marched through the crowded Mong Kok district in the afternoon, with many then dispersing to different parts of the Kowloon peninsula

Stores in the heart of Hong Kong's Kowloon shopping area shut their doors on Saturday and black-clad activists blocked thoroughfares as the Chinese-controlled city was again rocked by anti-government protests.

Tens of thousands marched through the crowded Mong Kok district in the afternoon, with many then dispersing to different parts of the Kowloon peninsula, where they defaced police station signs and set up barriers across busy streets.

Police said a large group of protesters had marked the Tsim Sha Tsui police station, in one of Kowloon's shopping districts, with paint and damaged a vehicle inside the station. The police said in a statement that officers had warned them "to stop their illegal act at once and disperse peacefully".

Riot police could be seen outside the police stations in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok.

Protests against a proposed bill allowing people to be extradited to stand trial in mainland China have grown increasingly violent since June, with police accused of excessive force and failing to protect protesters from suspected gang attacks.

Protesters, their faces covered with masks or bandanas and wearing helmets and goggles, have adopted increasingly sophisticated tactics. On Saturday, many carried hiking sticks and some held homemade shields.

"We don't stay in the same place. We are using hit-and-run tactics," said a construction worker who was among protesters in the Mong Kok area of Kowloon and called himself "Water."

"If the police are too strong, we will leave. They are a rock, so we must be like water," he added, echoing a refrain of Hong Kong martial arts legend Bruce Lee that has been taken up by activists.

Shuttered shops

In the Nathan Road area, ordinarily packed with Saturday shoppers, shutters were down on most street-facing shops, including 7-11 convenience stores, jewellery chain Chow Tai Fook and watch brands Rolex and Tudor.

The main entrance of the landmark Peninsula Hotel was closed.

Gary, 25, a digital marketeer, said protesters were coordinating via Instagram, Facebook and Telegram, and that they had appealed against further violence.

"We haven't put up many barricades," he said. "We want this to be a peaceful protest. We have asked everyone to avoid violence in the hope the police won't crack down. It's weird, there are no police around."

Many of Saturday's demonstrators wore yellow or white hard hats, and the crowds chanted "age of revolution!" and "Hong Kongers, add oil!" - a popular exhortation in Cantonese.

Earlier, hundreds of marchers held posters with an illustration of protesters in hard hats tending to a young child, with the words "protect the future".

The crowd was mostly young, but also included families and many older people. Some young couples held hands.

As the marchers gathered at the starting point, one passed around pre-paid subway cards to young groups, while others gave out chicken wings and McDonald's food. When the march started, volunteers handed out hard hats, face masks and water bottles.

Organizers put the size of the crowd for the rally at 120,000. Police had yet to release their estimate.

Police supporters

Across the harbour, on Hong Kong island, thousands of police supporters, mostly wearing white, held a separate afternoon rally amid a carnival-like atmosphere in Victoria Park.

Many waved Hong Kong and Chinese flags and the crowd shouted slogans in support of the police. Pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho was greeted with strong applause.

"We are the real Hong Kong people who are not the same as those black-shirted thugs. We don't need a so-called 'HK revolution', we only need to do our best, which is enough," he told the crowd.

Sylvia Lam, 61, who described herself as a housewife, said she had turned up at the pro-police rally to oppose violence.

"I feel extremely uncomfortable when every time I watch TV, the scenes are so radical," she said. "Young people should stop and think, don't become someone's political tools, be rational please."

The organiser estimated the size of the crowd at the pro-police event as 90,000, while the police said the crowd numbered 26,000 at its peak.

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