Hong Kong’s government was under siege from its own people on Saturday night with tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets a day after police arrested several high-profile pro-democracy activists and politicians.
As night fell, riot police used the roof of the government headquarters to fire tear gas and pepper spray on protesters. They also used water cannon to spray demonstrators with indelible blue dye.
“When the police come we will beat the shit out of them,” said a 20-year-old university student who identified himself only as Mr Leung. He was wearing a gas mask and standing behind a flaming barricade near the central Hong Kong police station.
The government last week stepped up the crackdown against the protests, arresting at least eight prominent pro-democracy activists and politicians.
Those detained included Joshua Wong, the city’s best-known activist and the face of the city’s previous major pro-democracy protest campaign, the 2014 Umbrella Movement. The arrests came a day after two of Hong Kong’s leading protest organisers were attacked by thugs in a significant escalation of political violence in the city.
Hong Kong is undergoing its most serious political crisis since the territory was handed over from the UK to China in 1997. The city’s summer of discontent was triggered by a controversial extradition bill but the protests have since broadened to include demands for an independent inquiry into the police and genuine universal suffrage.
Earlier on Saturday, tens of thousands of demonstrators held a mostly peaceful rally in central Hong Kong, despite a police ban on anti-government protests this weekend.
The protests marked the fifth anniversary of controversial political reforms proposed by Beijing for Hong Kong that were voted down by the city’s pro-democracy camp because they fell short of delivering genuine universal suffrage.
The demonstrators converged on the government headquarters later in the afternoon, where they clashed with police. Molotov cocktails were thrown over the tall fences surrounding the building, but most fell short of police gathered behind the barricades.
The scene of a government besieged by its own people was filmed throughout by personnel of mainland China’s People’s Liberation Army standing on the roof of their main garrison, which is situated directly beside the Hong Kong government building.
Hong Kong’s police force has been stretched to breaking point with increasing warnings from Beijing that it is prepared to intervene directly.
China’s central government has the means and power to quell any unrest in Hong Kong if the territory’s government is unable to control the situation, according to an editorial in the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist party’s flagship mouthpiece, on Saturday.
LIHKG, one of the main online forums of anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong, said that it was hit by “an unprecedented, large-scale DDoS attack” on its servers on Saturday morning.
China was linked to a similar cyber attack on Telegram, another app popular with protesters, in early June.
Employing their trademark “be water” strategy of fluid and creative resistance, the bulk of the protesters eventually retreated on Saturday evening through the underground railway system. They planned to regroup in a different part of the city to confuse and evade the police.
One young masked protester standing near the flaming barricade said that some protesters “will stay and hold police off as long as they can, while others run, others extinguish or throw back tear gas, and we will reassemble later”.
“We follow a be water strategy, he added. “Like Bruce Lee, we are adaptable.”
“We have to take action to show the government how determined we are,” said another protester, a university student, who had covered his face in black cloth and a gas mask.