Violent clashes broke out after several thousand people marched in Hong Kong against traders from mainland China in what is fast becoming a summer of unrest in the semi-autonomous territory.
After issuing a warning, police on Saturday moved forward to disperse the crowd of mostly young protesters who say peaceful demonstrations have failed to bring about change.
Police used pepper spray and batons. In panicky scenes, fleeing protesters scrambled over each other, some falling to the ground. Some had donned protective masks and helmets ahead of the confrontation.
Major demonstrations in the past month against a proposal to change extradition laws that would allow Hong Kong suspects to stand trial in mainland China have reawakened other movements in the city.
The protests have a common refrain: Hong Kong’s government, led by a non-democratically elected chief executive, is not addressing the people’s concerns.
Another rally is planned for Sunday.
Walking behind a banner that read “Strictly enforce the law, stop cross-border traders,” Saturday’s marchers passed by pharmacies and cosmetic shops that are popular with Chinese tourists and traders who bring goods back to sell in the mainland. Many of the stores were shuttered because of the protest.
Amy Chan, a 25-year-old bank employee, called the protest a continuing action building on the momentum of the anti-extradition law rallies.
“There isn’t an anti-extradition protest every day to keep us going,” she said. “I hope that through today’s action, people in Hong Kong will not forget that there are actually many other social issues waiting to be solved.”
The city’s leader, Carrie Lam, has pledged to do a better job of listening to all sectors of society, but many protesters want her to resign.
Her government proposed legislation in February that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to China. The proposal ignited concerns that the rights and freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony for 50 years after its 1997 return to China are being chipped away at by a pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong.
Lam suspended the legislation indefinitely after protesters blocked the legislature on June 12, preventing the Legislative Council from meeting to debate the extradition bill. Faced with continuing protests, she declared the bill “dead” on Tuesday, but protesters remain unsatisfied, demanding it be formally withdrawn.
The march Saturday took place in Sheung Shui, a district that lies across the border from the mainland city of Shenzhen. Organizer Ronald Leung, a leader of the North District Parallel Imports Concern Group, said residents have been complaining about the issue of Chinese traders for many years.
“Citizens are really angry,” he said. “They want to come out and show their concern over the cross-border traders problem in the area, which is never solved.”