Thousands protested outside Hong Kong’s parliament on Sunday — this time to support police as they face mounting criticism over their use of tear gas and rubber bullets.
The large crowds, most of them dressed in white or blue, illustrated the ideological fissures now running through the finance hub as it experiences its worst political unrest in a generation.
Hong Kong saw two record-breaking rallies earlier this month by protesters opposed to a now postponed plan to approve extradition to mainland China.
But it has also been rocked by unprecedented clashes.
On 12 June police used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear largely young anti-extradition protesters from around parliament.
The police classified the demonstration as a riot and defended their tactics but opponents have accused officers of using excessive force and called for an independent inquiry.
Twice in the last two weeks the city’s police headquarters has been blockaded by angry crowds.
Sunday’s rally — comprised of a noticeably older demographic, some waving Chinese flags — was smaller than the huge anti-extradition marches but nonetheless showed that the police and pro-Beijing establishment still had plenty of supporters.
“I can’t put up with peoples’ behaviour towards police,” 70-year-old demonstrator Frances Yu told AFP.
A 54-year-old office worker, who gave his surname as Wong, said officers were trying to “maintain order” and that anti-extradition demonstrators had gone too far.
“It’s like they went crazy, those who charged, lambasted police… I find it so senseless,” he told AFP.
Many supporters turned out with children in tow, portraying themselves as a silent and peaceful majority.
But there were also tense moments.
At one of the subway entrances near the rally some half a dozen pro-democracy protesters were hissed and booed by a much larger crowd of police supporters, some of whom shouted profanities.
Police and other supporters had to step in to calm tempers.
Others screamed insults at journalists and at pro-democracy protesters camped out at the entrance to parliament.
Much of the artwork and posters pinned to the city’s parliament walls by anti-extradition protesters were torn down by police supporters as they passed by.
The pro-democracy camp will hold another rally on Monday, with organisers expecting a huge turnout.
The extradition protests were the latest manifestation of growing fears, especially among young Hong Kongers, that China is trampling on the city’s unique freedoms and culture — aided by the pro-Beijing government.
Years of protests calling for Hong Kongers to be able to elect their leaders have won no concessions from Beijing.
There is also a staunchly nationalist, pro-establishment strain that runs through the city, especially among older generations, who regard pro-democracy protesters with disdain.