HONG KONG - Police and protesters in Hong Kong clashed again Sunday, as thousands of people took to the streets for another weekend of protests.
Last week, the city’s governing body formally withdrew the bill that sparked the original demonstrations earlier this year, but that has done little to appease protesters in this leaderless movement, who say they want the government to do more to stave off what they believe is encroaching control from Beijing.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence last week became the highest ranking member of the Trump administration to voice strong support for the anti-Beijing movement, now entering its fifth month in this semi-autonomous Chinese city.
"To the millions in Hong Kong who have been peacefully demonstrating to protect your rights these past months, we stand with you,” Pence said. “We are inspired by you and we urge you to stay on the path of non-violent protest.”
That message of non-violence did not carry, with clashes and vandalism that only intensified as night fell. In previous months, other protests have turned chaotic and violent, with police firing tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and the occasional live round.
Hong Kong police initially tried to stop demonstrators from progressing past their gathering point at the harbor, by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Protesters fought back with umbrellas. Authorities set up choke points along the main protest route, penning in the crowds. But later, as police retreated, the crowd resurfaced further down the road, vandalizing businesses they see as supporting Beijing, like the city’s subway system.
Opposition legislator Ted Hui told VOA the violence disrupts what he says should be peaceful protests.
“It’s not something that Hong Kong people would like to see,” he said as he stood on a street corner, surrounded by other demonstrators. “But I still urge people to look through the surface, and understand the background of why people are so angry and there’s no other way of expressing their grief, and that’s why they are resorting to some other means.”
Hui added, “It might not be right, but the government should have responded to the five demands and the problem would have been totally solved.”
Hong Kong legislators this week formally withdrew a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be tried in mainland China. Opponents felt it symbolized Beijing’s increasing control on the former British colony.
But the protesters’ demands have grown to eclipse that initial request, Hui said, and now include demands for universal suffrage and an investigation into the police.
“The focus has shifted from the extradition bill to the police force itself, when they’ve beaten up so many young people and the public even suspected they killed some young people,” he said.
Some protesters say they are determined to keep the peace, which could signal a growing rift between pacifists who say they just want peaceful demonstrations, and those who have resorted to vandalism and have been met with police action.
On Friday, peaceful demonstrators held two police-approved sit-ins in central Hong Kong, to protest against what they say is police brutality.
Fifty-one-year-old Patrick Li said he has faithfully attended every protest, waving the old colonial-era Hong Kong flag along with the American flag. But he notes his dissent is constrained by one rule.
“I disagree with violence,” Li said as he held both flags aloft. “So if there is violence, I will walk away.”
That was tested on this night, as fire, water and tear gas — once again — washed over Hong Kong’s once peaceful streets.