HONG KONG (AP) – Hong Kong’s government reiterated that violence is not the solution after an unapproved march descended into chaos with police firing tear gas and water cannons after demonstrators lobbed Molotov cocktails at government buildings, blocked traffic and set fires.
The government in a statement late Sunday said violence would only harm the community and it was sincerely trying to solve problems.
Thousands of people, black-clad masked protesters alongside families with children, defied a police ban and peacefully marched 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Causeway Bay shopping district to the central business district, making continuous calls for democratic reforms. Police had turned down the march permit, but the demonstrators were undeterred, as they have been all summer.
Some protesters later burned Chinese flags and vandalized subway stations. Hundreds of them targeted the government office complex, throwing bricks and gasoline bombs through police barriers. Police responded by firing volleys of tear gas and using water cannon trucks to spray pepper-laced water as well as blue liquid that helped them identify offenders. Protesters retreated but regrouped in cat-and-mouse battles lasting a few hours before calm returned.
Pro-Beijing supporters turned up at the North Point and Fortress Hill neighborhoods late Sunday, leading to brawls. Police in a statement Monday said people used iron hammers and other weapons to attack each other, leading to a number of injuries and forcing police to deploy tear gas.
Police also said “radical protesters escalated their violent acts” by throwing petrol bombs at police officers and vowed to step up enforcement. In one case, it said protesters hurled petrol bombs at two police officers, who were forced to withdraw pistols as a warning to disperse them.
The anti-government protests have taken place since June and increasingly have been marked by violence and clashes with police. The movement was sparked by an extradition bill many Hong Kong residents see as an example of the territory’s autonomy being eroded under Chinese rule.
The government’s decision to withdraw the bill was seen by the protesters as too little, too late. Their demands have grown to calls for greater democracy and police accountability, and some of the more confrontational protesters defend violence as necessary since peaceful demonstrations haven’t effected change.
More than 1,300 people have been arrested amid the increasing clashes between protesters and police.
The unrest has battered Hong Kong’s economy, which was already reeling from the U.S.-China trade war. It is also seen as an embarrassment to Beijing, which has accused foreign powers of fomenting the unrest.
Protesters have vowed to keep up their protests ahead of the Oct. 1 celebration of the China’s ruling Communist Party’s 70th year in in power. The Civil Human Rights Front, whose permit for the Sunday march was denied, plans new rallies on Sept. 28 and Oct. 1.
Eric Lai, coordinator for the group that planned several previous rallies that drew massive crowds, said police banned its rallies to silence peaceful protesters but it only led to more anger.
“Dialogue is meaningless if the government refuses to respond to the people’s demands,” he added.