Protesters in Hong Kong battled police on multiple fronts Tuesday, from major disruptions during the morning rush hour to a late-night standoff at a prominent university, as the 5-month-old anti-government movement takes an increasingly violent turn.
Gasoline bombs and fires lit up the night at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, while police massed for a possible clearing action with a water cannon truck.
It was the second straight day of weekday protests and followed an especially violent day Monday in which police shot one protester and a man was set on fire.
As on Monday morning, the day began with protesters shutting down parts of the commuter rail system and blocking roads. Some people took more than two hours to get to work, while others stayed home.
Bus tires were punctured and debris thrown on railway tracks. Police fired tear gas at protesters who littered roadways with bricks and anything else they could get their hands on — even merchandise still wrapped in plastic and tossed out from boxes.
Commuters got off one stopped train and were escorted on foot along the tracks.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, speaking to news media after a weekly meeting with advisers, called the blocking of the morning commute “a very selfish act.”
“People from different sectors in society are holding fast to their positions and refusing to concede to violence or other radical actions,” she said. “I hereby express my gratitude to those who are still going to work and school today.”
Many office workers turned out in support of the protesters, who rallied for a second day on Pedder Street in Central, a business and high-end shopping district.
A few thousand people took over several blocks, chanting “Five demands, not one less” while holding up one hand with five outstretched fingers. Their demands include democratic changes and an independent investigation of police treatment of protesters.
Traffic was blocked on two major roads, with buses and half a dozen of Hong Kong’s famous trams lined up unable to move. The words “Join Us” were spray painted on the front window of a halted double-decker bus abandoned by the driver and passengers. The driver-side window was shattered, with a message reading “Sorry” added later.
Office workers filled the sidewalks and overhead walkways, some joining the protesters in chanting.
One 24-year-old man, who would not give his name, said he was there to support the protesters and accused the police of using excessive force, a common complaint among the city’s 7.4 million people.
Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters and onlookers who were hurling abuse at the officers. At least one person was injured when he was struck on the head by a tear gas canister. But protesters returned by evening and were again blocking roads with bricks and commandeered buses.
Protests ebbed and flowed all day at several universities. Classes were canceled, and clashes were particularly intense at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Scores of officers charged onto the campus after firing tear gas, arresting student protesters who tried to block their way with makeshift barricades, including a burning car.
That didn’t end the standoff, which was continuing Tuesday night.
Recent weeks have been marked by escalating vandalism of shops linked to mainland China and train stations, and assaults by both protesters and pro-Beijing supporters.
On Monday, a police officer drew his gun during a struggle with protesters, shooting one in the abdomen. In another neighborhood, a 57-year-old man was set on fire after an apparent argument.
Both remained hospitalized Tuesday, the shot protester in serious condition and the man who was burned in critical condition, the Hospital Authority said.
Video also showed a policeman on a motorcycle weaving at high speed through a group of protesters walking up a street.
Police say those incidents are being investigated but defend the officers’ actions as necessary for their own safety.
Police spokesman Kong Wing-cheung said the burning had been registered as a case of attempted murder and called on the public to provide information about the assailant.
“Hong Kong’s rule of law has been pushed to the brink of total collapse,” Kong said, calling those who defend or maintain ties with violent protesters “accomplices.”
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang lambasted the U.S. and Britain over statements of concern about the spike in violence.
“The United States and Britain pretend to be fair on this incident, but it only reveals how they confuse right and wrong and how hypocritical they are. And their verbal justice once again exposes their double standards and ulterior motives,” Geng said at a daily briefing.
China accuses the U.S. and other foreign powers of fomenting and encouraging the protests.
In Washington, the U.S. government said Monday that it is watching the situation with “grave concern.”
″We condemn violence on all sides, extend our sympathies to victims of violence regardless of their political inclinations, and call for all parties — police and protesters — to exercise restraint,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
She urged the government to address the underlying concerns behind the protests and the protesters to respond to efforts at dialogue.
Police said they had arrested 287 people on Monday, raising to the number of arrests since the movement began in June to more than 3,500. The latest arrests ranged in age from 12 to 82 years old and 190 were students.
The Hospital Authority said 128 people were taken to hospitals Monday, and one remained in critical condition and five others in serious condition on Tuesday.
The protests began over a proposed law that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China, where they could face opaque and politically sensitive trials.
Activists saw the bill as another sign of an erosion in Hong Kong’s autonomy and civic freedoms, which China promised would be maintained for 50 years under a “one nation, two systems” principle when the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.
Lam eventually withdrew the extradition bill but has insisted the violence stop before any further political dialogue can take place.
District council elections on Nov. 24 are seen as a measure of public sentiment toward Hong Kong’s government. Pro-democracy lawmakers have accused the government of trying to provoke violence to justify canceling or postponing the vote.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Ken Moritsugu