Protesters build barricades outside the terminals at Hong Kong International Airport, in Hong Kong, China September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Protesters build barricades outside the terminals at Hong Kong International Airport, in Hong Kong, Sept. 1, 2019.

VOA's Fern Robinson contributed to this report.

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong blocked roads near the city's international airport as part of another day of demonstrations Sunday.

Some flights were canceled and authorities had suspended the express train service to the airport. 

 Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters are gathering at the airport bus station to mount another day of rallies.

Riot police walk inside the airport as anti-extradition bill protesters gather outside, in Hong Kong, China September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

As Hong Kong surveyed a night of damage caused by government opponents, officials defended police actions as the city became a smoky battleground, stoked by young people battling for democratic change.

Police answered Molotov cocktails, bonfires, hurled bricks and roadblocks with water cannons, tear gas, beatings and, at one point, live gun fire.

But it was the riot officers’ decision to storm two subway stations and beat passengers that outraged most residents in the city. Videos were shared widely of police in helmets and gas masks lashing pedestrians and riders inside a train in Prince Edward station, and then soaking four cowering people who pleaded and wept.

Elsewhere, posted video showed a riot officer standing guard over three detained medical volunteers in yellow vests emblazoned with red crosses. They were forced to stand separately, their faces to walls. Another clip showed a first aider pleading to enter a MTR station that had been closed and gated. “I want to help the injured!” he sobbed. “You can beat me to death later!”

A demonstrator is detained by police officers during a protest in Hong Kong, Aug. 31, 2019.

Police: Force appropriate

A police spokeswoman told reporters that police had used appropriate force when protesters had resisted. She admitted that the situation was chaotic and it was difficult to distinguish between protesters and the public as police moved against the crowd at the Prince Edward station.

“Police will continue to take resolute enforcement actions so as to safeguard the city’s public safety and bring all lawbreakers to justice” the force said in a news release.

Government officials said police were justified in their actions.

“The behaviors of the radical protesters gravely breach the public peace and pose a serious threat to the safety of police officers on duty and members of the public at the scene,” according to a news release issued Sunday.

Matthew Cheung, Hong Kong’s chief secretary for administration, condemned the protesters’ decision to use violence and said it would be irresponsible for residents to engage in a general strike planned for Monday.

A demonstrator prepares to throw a brick at police during a protest in Hong Kong, Aug. 31, 2019.

Fewer protesters

The number of participants was far smaller than most protest weekends, in part because police banned a proposed rally and march by a civil rights organization that had organized previous gatherings of as many as 2 million participants. The participants made up for their smaller numbers by using far more violence than previous nights.

Near the government center in Admiralty, a few thousand protesters occupied Harcourt Road, a major east-west highway. Police accused “radical protesters” of attempting to storm the Central Government Offices, Legislative Council Complex and police headquarters. Protesters hurled petrol bombs and bricks toward lines of riot police. Police coated the crowds with giant plumes of blue-dyed water shot from cannons as military helicopters hovered overhead. The rhythmic beating of rotary blades and tear gas rifle fire gave the day in an ominous warlike soundtrack.

Support for protesters

As he watched protesters dig up bricks from a construction site and set up barricades in Wanchai, Howard Lau, 62, a merchandiser, said he supported the young people at the front.

“Their target is mainly the police. That is acceptable,” Lau said. “The police have more painful equipment. … I support their action, to show the government we won’t easily give up.”

In Victoria Park, officers said they were attacked by a mob and fired live rounds into the air, according to the South China Morning Post.

Protestors demonstrate in front of the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong, China September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

A police spokeswoman said undercover officers dressed as protesters fired their sidearms after up to 40 people attacked them with sticks and bricks.

Pan Mak, 25, who goes to the front to support those who clash with police, said protesters were convinced they must counter the bullets with more violent measures as arrests thin their ranks.

“They will use any means from stopping us from coming out,” he said. “We finally face the government to show how dirty they are”