HONG KONG - Enraged Hong Kong protesters blocked roads and defied police orders to disperse early Monday after riot officers fired tear gas and non-lethal ammunition at fleeing crowds.
Dozens of injuries were reported in several districts that became smokey battlegrounds, where the repeated "pop, pop" of exploding ammunition and screams echoed into the night. A medical volunteer was hit by ammunition in one eye. Journalists reported being beaten on their heads and limbs. Once again, thugs lashed protesters on a street, a repeat of an incident weeks back in Yuen Long, in the territory's northern region, when men in white t-shirts whipped rail customers with rattan sticks.
The government counted 54 people injured, including two who were hospitalized in serious condition Monday and 28 who were listed as stable, according to the Hospital Authority.
Authorities in Beijing Monday termed the protests 'terrorism.'
Police said protesters defied an unprecedented ban on street marches, and then pelted officers with bricks and gasoline bombs. Demonstrators and residents said police seemed to display a new brazenness and determination to clear the streets. Officers discharged tear gas inside an enclosed rail station, with one officer firing a few meters away from a mass of protesters racing down a steep subway escalator.
In another district, police disguised in black clothes and face masks, in the style of the anti-government strikers, suddenly pinned down protesters and carried out arrests. That action, more than any other, convinced some protesters that their ranks have been infiltrated.
Much of the violence was broadcast and streamed live by news companies.
The night "was the most chaotic, most police brutality that residents and protesters faced before," said one protester who asked to be identified as Hei L for fear of being prosecuted. "It's time for the protesters and citizens to become more vigilant."
It is the tenth week of protests in this Chinese territory, which began as a quest to stop a bill that would have allowed Hong Kong to send criminal suspects elsewhere, including mainland China. The force police used to quell the crowds, and violence against government picketers carried out by gangs that resulted in few arrests, broadened the fight. Protesters now demand a democratic, accountable government where residents may vote for their next leader and control the police.
In the weeks since the first mass marches in June, protesters have staged more fleet actions - such as blocking a major tunnel through Victoria Harbor - designed to tire police and avoid mass arrests that have bruised morale. Police seemed overwhelmed on Aug. 5, when a citywide labor and transit strike mushroomed into multiple blockages and confrontations throughout the city.
Authorities canceled flights Monday at Hong Kong's international airport after protesters staged a demonstration there.
On Friday, police turned down several requests for peaceful marches through several neighborhoods, citing the change of violence. It was a highly unusual step in a city where the rights to gather and speak are enshrined in the constitution. Government opponents marched anyway. "We are angry the government did not listen to us,'' said Joy Luk, a blind solicitor who walked, white stick in hand, toward the front line in Kowloon before she was convinced to turn back because of the tear gas. "We have the right to have peaceful assemblies."
Both Sides Defiant
The government issued a statement after midnight that condemned protesters.
Police were ready on Sunday. Live video showed a special tactical unit hit people with batons who ran along a popular shopping area in Tsim Sha Tsui. On Hong Kong Island, another unit chased protesters into a subway station as gas fumes billowed. Live news reports also showed a group of men clad in white using poles and rods to thrash people in Tsuen Wan. The incident was an eery echo of one weeks back in Yuen Long, when about 100 men wearing white beat passersby and railway customers. Only about a dozen of them have been charged.
"So many citizens feel disappointed in the police," said Avery, a masked 20-year-old undergraduate who with a small bullhorn directed a crowd in Kowloon to retreat. He acknowledged that the protesters were helped when officers were aggressive - "we want to show the public how violent the police are," and that protesters' methods would never equal the power of the police. "There are so many people, see? They are not afraid."