HONG KONG - Hong Kong protests turned violent Saturday for the first time in nearly two weeks, as hundreds of demonstrators dressed in black and armed with baseball bats and bamboo poles hurled gas bombs and bricks at police.
Hong Kong police brandished batons and fired volleys of tear gas to disperse the protesters, who had set up makeshift street barricades using bamboo scaffolding outside a police station and a nearby shopping mall.
Meanwhile, China freed a British consulate worker, Simon Cheng, whose detention served to ratchet up tensions. He had been detained for 15 days in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, for allegedly violating public security management regulations, according to police there.
Authorities said Cheng's legal rights were upheld, claiming he had confessed to the charges for which he was held. This is a standard rejoinder from Chinese police, despite the fact Cheng was not given a chance to defend himself in court. Cheng's family said on Facebook that he had returned to Hong Kong.
Protesters had been demanding his release for several days, and Britain said it welcomed the news.
Four MTR subway stations were shut down in Kwun Tong, a densely populated area of the Chinese-ruled city, though thousands of protesters filled the streets anyway, many carrying umbrellas as protection from the sun. "Give me democracy or give me death" was spray-painted on a wall.
As the rallies entered their third month, protesters also cut down a "smart lamppost" because they feared it was being used for surveillance by Chinese authorities.
Hong Kong's government maintained, however, the lamppost collected only data on traffic, weather and air quality.
Last week, Hong Kong's airport was forced to close when protesters occupied terminals. China called the behavior "near-terrorist acts" and some protesters later apologized.
Hong Kong police said Friday that said the city's high court had extended an order restricting protests at the airport.
"Any person who unlawfully or willfully obstructs or interferes with the normal operation of the airport" is liable to face criminal charges, said Foo Yat-ting, the senior superintendent of the Hong Kong Police Force's Kowloon East Region.
Hong Kong's Airport Authority also published a half-page notice in newspapers urging people to "love Hong Kong" and not to block the airport.
Saturday's demonstration in Hong Kong was the latest in a weekslong movement that began with calls to stop an extradition bill, which has now been scrapped, and has expanded to include demands for full democracy.