A protester throws a tear gas canister which was fired by riot police during a rally in Hong Kong, July 28, 2019.
A protester throws a tear gas canister which was fired by riot police during a rally in Hong Kong, July 28, 2019.

Updated: July 30, 2019, 2:36 p.m.

Pro-democracy protesters and police in Hong Kong clashed again Tuesday night after 44 fellow protesters were arrested and charged with rioting, the first time the charge has been used since the protests began last month.

Police used pepper spray and batons Tuesday night against demonstrators outside a police station in the Kwai Chung district. Protesters responded by hurling plastic bottles and umbrellas at the police.

Live coverage on Now TV showed an officer aiming a shotgun at protesters who were throwing objects at him at a nearby bus station.

A bleeding man is taken away by policemen after being attacked outside Kwai Chung police station in Hong Kong, July 31, 2019.

Rallies that began several months ago morphed into rowdy protests last month over a call to end the now-suspended bill to extradite Hong Kong residents charged with criminal offenses to mainland China. Demonstrators are also calling for democratic reforms and an end to Beijing's tightening grip on the territory.

The protests are the worst social turmoil to rock the former British colony since it returned to Chinese rule 22 years ago. The protests intensified dramatically over the last two weekends, with police repeatedly firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse projectile-throwing crowds.

A group of pro-government enforcers also attacked protesters, 45 of whom were hospitalized.

Blocking commuters

Earlier Tuesday, protesters descended into the city's subway system and blocked commuters from exiting their trains.  

Service was delayed and partially suspended at some stations along the route, forcing commuters to wait in long lines for free shuttle bus service to other subway stops. Clashes broke out between demonstrators and frustrated commuters anxious to get to work.  

A Chinese government official on Monday called on the people of Hong Kong to oppose violence and accused some Western politicians of stirring unrest.   

Yang Guang, a spokesman for China's cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, also reiterated the government's support for Hong Kong's embattled chief executive Carrie Lam.

Authorities' use of the rioting charge has had little effect in dispersing the crowds. A conviction of the offense can result in a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.