Asia Pacific / Politics

Hong Kong defies China anniversary with 'Day of Grief' rallies and clashes

Bloomberg, AFP-JIJI

Protesters and police battled across Hong Kong on Tuesday in the some of the most serious clashes since widespread unrest began in June, with reports emerging that a demonstrator has been shot for the first time as the strife-torn city marked the 70th anniversary of Communist China’s founding with defiant “Day of Grief” protests.

A protester was hit in the chest by a live round fired by police in Tsuen Wan, the South China Morning Post reported, citing an unnamed source. The newspaper said officers and first aid workers were seen tending to the man on the street. Local outlets Now TV and Cable TV also said police had fired a live round which injured a protester, each citing an unidentified source. When reached for comment, a police spokeswoman said they were still trying to verify the reports.

In the city, activists were determined to overshadow Beijing’s festivities, using the anniversary to step up their nearly four months of protests pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.

Thousands marched through the streets of Hong Kong island beginning early on Tuesday afternoon, despite authorities rejecting an application to hold a rally there and police warning people “to leave the scene as soon as possible.”

Smaller crowds rallied in a number of other districts with clashes quickly breaking out.

In Tsuen Wan, masked protesters used umbrellas and sticks to beat riot officers after they made a series of arrests. The officers retreated into a nearby town hall after they came under a barrage of projectiles.

In Wong Tai Sin, police fired brief volleys of tear gas against protesters who had blocked nearby roads.

The biggest march remained on Hong Kong island, a frequent battlefield between police and protesters where multiple malls and shops remained shuttered for the public holiday.

“Three months on and our five demands have yet to be achieved. We need to continue our fight,” said a protester, wearing a mask popularized by the cult film and comic book “V for Vendetta.”

The protests came as lavish celebrations were taking place in Beijing, including a huge military parade through Tiananmen Square under the gaze of China’s strongman President Xi Jinping.

Millions have hit the streets in record-breaking numbers while hard-core activists have repeatedly clashed with police, in the biggest challenge to China’s rule since the city’s 1997 handover by the U.K.

In a vivid illustration of the political insecurity now coursing through Hong Kong, city officials watched a morning harborside flag-raising ceremony from the safety of the nearby convention center.

Since the 1997 handover, officials had always attended the ceremony outside — even during torrential downpours. But popular protests that erupted in June have made it increasingly risky for officials to appear in public.

A flag-raising ceremony on July 1 — the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover — was also watched from indoors as protesters flooded the streets and later laid siege to the city’s legislature.

At the event Tuesday, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung delivered an address in which he praised China’s development over the last 70 years.

But he said officials recognized they needed “new thinking to try to address deep-rooted problems” in Hong Kong.

Throughout the morning police ramped up security checks and conducted frequent stops and searches while authorities announced the closure of a dozen subway stations.

But the measures did little to halt crowds appearing in the afternoon.

Rival pro-China rallies were also held.

In the morning, a crowd of some 50 people waved flags and chanted “Long live the motherland!”

“We are Chinese and the whole nation is celebrating,” said Kitty Chan, 30.

Hong Kong’s protests were initially sparked by a now scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, but have since snowballed into a much wider movement of popular anger against city leaders and Beijing.

Among the demands made by protesters is an inquiry into the police, an amnesty for the more than 1,500 people arrested and universal suffrage — all of which have been rejected by Carrie Lam and Beijing.

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