Hong Kong police used water cannon for the first time and fired tear gas at protesters as the political crisis afflicting the Asian financial hub for months turned violent for a second consecutive day.
Protesters on Sunday afternoon blocked roads and hurled petrol bombs at police hours after family members of the police held a separate rally elsewhere in the city. They called on Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, to formulate a political solution rather than relying on the police to quell the movement, as the force has become a target of anger for its handling of the crisis.
Ms Lam’s push to pass an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for the first time sparked the protests in June. The proposed law has been suspended but the demonstrators’ grievances have expanded to encompass a range of demands, including an independent investigation into the police’s handling of the protests and greater democratic freedoms in the Chinese territory.
A rally on Saturday also ended in violent clashes, with police saying they had arrested 29 people after alleging that protesters had thrown projectiles and started fires.
Ms Lam attempted to take advantage of the lull in violence to consult with power brokers and establishment figures in the city at her official residence on Saturday to determine how to set up a dialogue with the protesters. “The past week was a little calmer, and we’d like to take this opportunity to start the conversation,” she said, referring to the rally last weekend.
But the meeting came after a long period during which she has refused to grant any concessions or present any substantive plan in public to deal with the crisis.
The crisis has raised questions about the “one country, two systems” model established after the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese sovereignty, which granted the territory a high degree of autonomy from Beijing.
A seminar of officials from Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as academics from official think-tanks held at the weekend in Shenzhen saw a further ratcheting up of rhetoric from Beijing.
Maria Tam, a Hong Kong official and member of the National People’s Congress, said: “The soldiers stationed in Hong Kong are not strawmen meant to just stay in the garrison, they are an important part of the ‘one country, two systems’.”
Xu Ze, president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong & Macau Studies, an official think-tank, said the “persistent violent activities” in Hong Kong threaten China’s national interests.