Peaceful rally at US consulate gives way to nighttime fires, clashes

(PHOTO ON FILE) Smoke billows from an exit of the Central MTR station after it was set alight during a protest in Hong Kong on Sept. 8, 2019. Photo via AFP.
(PHOTO ON FILE) Smoke billows from an exit of the Central MTR station after it was set alight during a protest in Hong Kong on Sept. 8, 2019. Photo via AFP.

Hardcore pro-democracy activists clashed with riot police last night following a predominantly peaceful march to the US consulate in Hong Kong aimed at spurring the us to ramp up international pressure on Beijing.

The demonstration was just the latest in a months-long, sometimes-violent protest campaign sparked by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland, seen by opponents as the latest move by China to chip away at the city’s unique freedoms. Though Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam scrapped the extradition proposal in a surprise U-turn last week, the movement has already snowballed into a broader campaign calling for greater democracy, police accountability, and an amnesty for those arrested.

The bill’s formal withdrawal was derided almost immediately as too little, too late.

Sunday’s protest featured another massive turnout that saw dense crowds of protesters file past Washington’s consulate for hours, calling on the US to pressure Beijing to meet their demands and for Congress to pass a recently proposed bill that expresses support for the protest.

In what has become a now familiar pattern, the main daytime rally passed off peacefully, but as evening set in, riot police chased groups of hardcore protesters through Central and Causeway Bay. Protesters, meanwhile, blocked roads, vandalized nearby subway stations, and set makeshift barricades on fire.

One fire burned at an entrance to the subway in the corporate district of Central, where a protester also smashed the station’s exterior glass.

In the shopping area of Causeway Bay, officers fired tear gas outside another subway station, at one point even lobbing a tear gas grenade directly into a pack of reporters.

Paramedics took away on a stretcher a man who collapsed after inhaling the gas, and police detained suspected protesters inside that station.

It remains to be seen whether protesters’ efforts to sway US Congress will succeed. A bill currently before the legislature would tie Hong Kong’s special status in trade with the US to regular reviews to ensure it remains sufficiently autonomous from China.

While some American politicians on both sides of the aisle have expressed support for the democratic goals of the protesters, the Trump administration has maintained a more hands-off approach while it fights a trade war with China.

Washington has rejected China’s allegations that it is backing the demonstrators and Beijing has shown little evidence to back its claims beyond supportive statements from some politicians.

The protests, meanwhile, show no signs of abating, and Lam has struck an uncompromising tone for much of the last three months.

“Our government continuously takes away our freedoms and that’s why people are coming out,” a 30-year-old protester in a wheelchair who gave his surname as Ho told AFP on Sunday.

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