A demonstrator prepares to throw a brick at police during a protest in Hong Kong, China August 31, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A demonstrator prepares to throw a brick at police during a protest in Hong Kong, Aug. 31, 2019.

HONG KONG - Using water cannons, gunshots, batons and tear gas, Hong Kong police pursued protesters through city streets and into subway stations, seeking people who defied and blocked police in several districts on a tense and chaotic Saturday. The demonstrations coincided with the fifth anniversary of Beijing’s denial of free, unimpeded elections in the territory.

Before midnight, riot police stormed into two subway stations in the city’s Kowloon area seeking suspects. Videos aired and shared online showed officers snagging a few people, as a phalanx of police charged a train car, whipping and beating seemingly random passengers who cowered and sobbed.

A demonstrator throws a Molotov cocktail at police during a protest in Hong Kong, Aug. 31, 2019.

The event was a shocking reminder of the attack in Yuen Long on July 21, when more than 100 white-shirted assailants savagely beat passengers as people frantically called police who didn’t arrive for 39 minutes. Just four men have been charged in the attacks and police actions are under investigation by the city’s corruption agency.

On Saturday, police officials claimed that some protesters vandalized the customer service center and damaged ticket machines in the Mong Kok MTR Station and assaulted citizens and damaged property inside a nearby station in Prince Edward.

At one point, the company that runs rail service, the MTR Corp., suspended service on five lines.

Those events swiftly overshadowed a new tactic in the police arsenal, the spraying of a blue dyed liquid from water cannons to soak protesters. The dye, police have said, would allow them to more easily find violators later.

Protesters responded by throwing Molotov cocktails and setting a fire at a barricade on a major thoroughfare near Hong Kong police headquarters. Police fired two live rounds into the air near Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island, according to journalists at the scene.

“It seems like hurting us doesn’t mean anything, unless we die,” said a 21-year-old protester named Alice, en route to a showdown with police in the neighborhood of Tsim Sha Tsui. “We’re risking our lives. They’re pushing us to do more, crazier things.”

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

An effort to stop a contentious bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China exploded this spring into a massive campaign for democratic rights.

Residents have marched for 12 straight weekends, initially to demand that the government withdraw the detested extradition bill and, more recently, to seek universal voting rights, a goal that has been repeatedly thwarted in the Chinese territory.

Both Democratic and Republican leaders of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee issued a statement on Hong Kong Saturday saying, “In recent weeks, we’ve seen admirable resolve among Hong Kongers to express their concerns regarding their future. A broad spectrum of Hong Kongers have chosen to put their personal safety and freedom at risk to stand up for their rights because Beijing has denied them a political voice.”

Frustration over the government’s decision to ignore the mass marches prodded younger participants to stage increasingly violent clashes with police. Their refusal to disperse, and to use Molotov cocktails, bricks and poles to fight officers, led officials to deny permission to marches and rallies, saying organizers could not guarantee that the events would be peaceful.

High school students plan to strike Monday. But a coalition of groups, including a major trade union, was denied rally permits for that same day. Police officials said organizers could not guarantee the public’s safety.