Hong Kong protests: Police fire pepper spray as demonstrators burn Chinese flag

By Raf Wober, Associated Press

Protesters have burned a Chinese flag and police fired pepper spray during a march in Hong Kong in renewed clashes over anti-government grievances.

Police accused protesters of spraying water at officers during the march by several thousand people in Tuen Mun in Hong Kong’s north-west. Reporters saw at least one person arrested.

Police run during a confrontation with protesters (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

The event was relatively small compared with previous demonstrations that have taken place every weekend since June. The protests started with opposition to a proposed extradition law and have expanded to include demands for greater democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The events are an embarrassment for China’s ruling Communist Party ahead of celebrations on October 1 of its 70th anniversary in power. Hong Kong’s government has announced it has cancelled a fireworks display that day, citing concern for public safety.

Protesters in Tuen Mun marched from a playground to a government office building. Many were dressed in black and carried umbrellas, a symbol of their movement.

Protesters chanted, “Reclaim Hong Kong!” and “Revolution of our times!”

An umbrella is a symbol of the protest movement (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Most were peaceful but some took down a Chinese flag outside a government office and set fire to it. Government broadcaster RTHK said some damaged fire hoses in the Tuen Mun light rail station.

Organisers announced the event, due to last two hours, was ending after one hour due to the chaotic scene at the station.

An organiser quoted by RTHK, Michael Mo, complained that police escalated tensions by sending armed anti-riot officers.

That will “only escalate tension between protesters and police”, Mo was quoted as saying.

Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has agreed to withdraw the extradition bill. But protesters are pressing other demands, including an independent investigation of complaints about police violence during earlier demonstrations.

Demonstrators burned the Chinese flag and marched through an outlying district of Hong Kong (AP/Vincent Yu)

Protesters complain Beijing and Ms Lam’s government are eroding the “high degree of autonomy” and Western-style civil liberties promised to the former British colony when it was returned to China in 1997.

The protests have begun to weigh on Hong Kong’s economy, which was already slowing due to cooling global consumer demand. The Hong Kong airport said passenger traffic fell in August and business is off at hotels and retailers.

Police refused permission for Saturday’s march but an appeal tribunal overturned that decision. The panel on Friday gave permission for a two-hour event that it said had to end at 5pm.

Protesters in Tuen Mun also complained about a group of women from mainland China who sing in a local park. Residents say they are too loud and accuse some of asking for money or engaging in prostitution.

Those complaints prompted a similar march in July.