Protesters staged flash protests in Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok on Wednesday afternoon to denounce a controversial national anthem bill.
Police said at least 300 people were arrested.
In Central, hundreds of office workers spilled onto Pedder Street and Queen’s Road Central during lunchtime. Police fired pepper balls at protesters attempting to block roads. According to a police statement, protesters also threw water bottles and other objects at officers, and shuttled through vehicles to stall traffic.
“Police had no choice but to use the lowest level of force, including pepper balls, to stop this illegal and violent behavior,” it said in a statement.
Protesters chanted “five demands, not one less” and “Hong Kongers, build our nation,” a new slogan that had not been previously chanted in demonstrations.
Here you go “HongKongers, build our nation!” 香港人 建國 pic.twitter.com/U6LHPaYZDI
— Xinqi Su 蘇昕琪 (@XinqiSu) May 27, 2020
Around the same time, police rounded up protesters who had gathered in Causeway Bay. Police detained dozens of mostly young protesters outside the Apple Store, though it was unclear if they were under arrest.
Across the harbor, protesters heeded online calls to gather outside Langham Place in Mong Kok for an impromptu march towards Tsim Sha Tsui. But police stopped dozens of protesters—some in school uniform—near the shopping center, ordering them to face the wall.
One man was reportedly pushed to the ground by police, leaving a pool of blood on the ground.
The protests followed a relatively quiet morning. Calls to paralyze early morning traffic and besiege the Legislative Council went unanswered as police spread themselves out throughout the city, anticipating clashes with protesters as lawmakers begin a second reading of the controversial national anthem bill.
The legislation has stalled in the city’s legislature since last year, when protests against an extradition law triggered months of unrest that only thinned in January.
Strongly supported by pro-establishment lawmakers, the bill is seen by supporters of the city’s democracy movement as yet another blow to Hong Kong’s freedoms.
If passed, insulting the song—including altering its lyrics or performing the song in a manner deemed derogatory—could be punishable by up to HK$50,000 (US$6,450) and three years in jail.
Deliberation of the bill comes a week after Beijing announced it is pushing to enact far-reaching national security laws in Hong Kong, which prompted the biggest weekend protests the city had seen in months.