HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s protest movement took a violent turn Sunday as police launched tear gas at protesters after a massive march continued late into the evening, and subway riders were attacked by masked assailants who apparently were targeting pro-democracy demonstrators.
The firing of the tear gas was the latest confrontation between police and protesters who have taken to the streets for over a month to fight a proposed extradition bill and call for electoral reforms in the Chinese territory.
The march had been peaceful when it reached its police-designated end point in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district in the late afternoon, but thousands continued onward, at various points occupying key government and business districts. They then headed for the Liaison Office, which represents China’s Communist Party-led central government within the city.
Later, police threw tear gas canisters at protesters to try to disperse them. Protesters scattered, some heading back in the direction of a key business and retail district. Police remained in place, protecting themselves with shields. Police said on their official social media accounts that protesters threw bricks and petrol bombs at them and attacked the Central police station.
Hong Kong media released video showing masked assailants attacking commuters in a subway station. Among those attacked were protesters clad in their trademark black clothing and yellow hard hats.
The attackers, meanwhile, were dressed in white with black masks pulled over their heads. On Saturday, demonstrators wore white at a counter-rally in support of police.
Footage from Apple Daily showed the attackers using umbrellas to beat people in the station and inside a subway car. Subway passengers filmed by Stand News and iCABLE angrily accused police officers of not intervening in the attack. Stand News reporter Gwyneth Ho said on Facebook that she suffered minor injuries to her hands and shoulder, and was dizzy from a head injury. The South China Morning Post reported several people were bleeding following the attacks, and that seven people were sent to the hospital.
The Hong Kong government said in a statement shortly after midnight that commuters were attacked at a subway station in the city’s Yuen Long neighborhood, leading to “confrontations and injuries.”
The statement also said some “radical protesters initiated a series of violent acts … despite repeated warnings” by police. They said the acts included hurling petrol bombs, setting fires and throwing bricks.
“This is absolutely unacceptable to Hong Kong as a society that observes the rule of law,” the statement said, referring to the acts of the subway attackers as well as the protesters.
Organizers said 430,000 people participated in Sunday’s march, while police said there were 138,000 during the procession’s “peak period.”
Large protests began early last month in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.