Hong Kong police launch tear gas at protesters as democracy march descends into chaos

Samuel Osborne, Peter Stubley

Police in Hong Kong fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters after hundreds of thousands of people staged a pro-democracy march as unrest in the city continues.

Demonstrators hurled eggs and sprayed graffiti at the Liaison Office, which represents China's Communist Party-led central government within the city.

Some members of the large crowd, which had defied police orders to end the procession in the Wan Chai commercial district, sprayed surveillance cameras and splattered a Chinese national emblem with black paint.

As hundreds of riot police took up positions nearby, others daubed graffiti on massive concrete pillars reading: “Restore Hong Kong, Revolution of Time.”

When asked if the protesters would attempt to force entry into the building, one 30-year-old man dressed head to toe in black replied: “No.” Mimicking a throat-slitting action, he added: “That would be the death of Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong media released video footage showing masked assailants attacking commuters in a subway station.

Among those attacked were protesters clad in their trademark black clothing and yellow hard hats.

The attackers, meanwhile, were dressed in white with black masks pulled over their heads. On Saturday, demonstrators wore white at a counter-rally in support of police.

Footage from Apple Daily showed the attackers using umbrellas to beat people in the station and inside a subway car.

Subway passengers filmed by Stand News and iCABLE angrily accused police officers of not intervening in the attack.

Riot police move in against anti-extradition bill protesters on Connaught Road West in Hong Kong (EPA/JEROME FAVRE)

The Hong Kong government said in a statement shortly after midnight that commuters had been attacked at a subway station in the city's Yuen Long neighbourhood, leading to "confrontations and injuries."

The statement also said that "some radical protesters initiated a series of violent acts ... despite repeated warnings" by the police. They said the acts included the hurling of petrol bombs, setting fires and throwing bricks.

"This is absolutely unacceptable to Hong Kong as a society that observes the rule of law," the statement said, referring to the acts of the subway attackers as well as the protesters.

The march had begun peacefully at a public park with protesters repeating their manifesto demands, including direct voting rights for all Hong Kong residents and dissolution of the Legislative Council.

Police move forward through tear gas as they clash with protesters (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Chanting “Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!”, they also called for an independent inquiry into police brutality during previous protests and the dropping of all criminal charges.

“I think the government has never responded to our demands,” said Karen Yu, a 52-year-old Hong Kong resident.

“No matter how much the government can do, at least it should come out and respond to us directly.”

Organisers claimed 430,000 people took part in the demonstration at its peak, while police estimated around 138,000.

Police fire tear gas on protesters to disperse them after the march (LAUREL CHOR/AFP/Getty Images)

Large demonstrations began early last month in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has declared the bill dead but has not formally withdrawn the legislation and some are calling for her to resign amid growing concerns about the steady erosion of civil rights.

While mostly peaceful, some demonstrations have led to violent confrontations between police and protesters. Activists stormed the Legislative Council building on 1 July and last weekend a fight broke out involving umbrellas and bats inside a luxury shopping centre.

Police officers have also used pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets in an attempt to control the crowds.

On Friday, homemade explosives were discovered during a raid on a commercial building. Local media reported that protests leaflets were also found but police said no concrete link with the demonstrations had been established.

Additional reporting by agencies