HONG KONG - Updated on July 29, at 5:30 AM
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.
The comments followed a tense night in Hong Kong, where protesters surged onto city streets and defied riot police who pelted them for hours with tear gas and rubber bullets.
As the battle between police and protesters continued, plumes of gas, once used as a final measure, were fired several times to prevent protesters from reaching the Beijing liaison office, a place that was defaced a week earlier. The protesters tried for hours to advance, only to retreat when they were overcome by smoke.
Many protesters said they were determined to continue to defy this government that has rebuffed peaceful marches, calls for democratic elections, and demands for an independent investigation into police tactics.
Some protesters urged people to move forward and to steel themselves against the gas by holding their breath, or throwing water on the smoking canisters. “There’s no distinction between those who use violence and peace,” one man, his nose and mouth hidden behind a scarf, told fellow protesters on the road. “There is only the front line and the back line.”
Protesters took turns going to the front.
“It’s to let the police know what they do won’t stop us,” said Heidi, a petite 26-year-old, readying to take her place at the barricades again. “We’re going to make their work more difficult.”
The protesters’ resistance came amid word that the central government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office would have a press conference on Monday to share Beijing’s views about Hong Kong’s current political turmoil. Some protesters wondered if Beijing might impose punishment or restrictions on the rambunctious territory.
The police stand-off unfolded after the government approved a rally in Central Hong Kong, but rejected an application for a march. After the rally, tens of thousands of people splintered off to occupy various parts of the city. Most of the action was in Sheung Wan in the western district.
Protesters grew more brazen as Sunday night ground on. They built barricades with bamboo poles and other materials scrounged from construction sites. Police said protesters threw bricks and lit objects in a cart on fire and pushed it towards the police cordon line. Someone also threw what appeared to be an incendiary device toward riot police waiting in a parking garage. It exploded into flames. It was unclear if any police were injured.
For hours, thousands of people in respirators, construction helmets and thick gloves, defied police orders to leave. They chanted, and beat sticks against metal, and shouted, “Recover Hong Kong, revolution in our time!” Slowly, the police took more turf and pushed protesters further from the liaison office. The crowd fell onto a parallel road and didn't disperse until around 11 PM local time.
Large anti-government protests began nearly two months ago, triggered by a controversial bill that would have eased extradition proceedings from Hong Kong to China. The government has suspended the bill, but that inflamed government critics who wanted it withdrawn completely.
Sunday’s clashes followed another illegal protest in the northern town of Yuen Long near China’s border on Saturday. Organizer Max Chung proposed that participants be allowed to march after thugs attacked railway customers, a lawmaker and journalists last Sunday. At least 45 people were injured.
Officers arrested 13 people on Sunday morning who were accused of playing roles in the Yuen Long protest, in which police also tried to suppress protesters with tear gas. Chung was charged with organizing an unlawful assembly.
Residents estimated that hundreds of thousands of protesters joined the illegal march in Yuen Long.
Ray, a 27-year-old, withstood two hours and many rounds of tear gas on Sunday. He said he intended to keep coming out. “The past two months we learn each night from the police,” said the 27-year-old engineer. “Most of us are familiar with gas. We’re not afraid of it anymore.”