Hardcore pro-democracy protesters left a trail of havoc and destruction across Hong Kong on Sunday, marching in defiance of a police ban and targeting government buildings and subway stations with vandalism.
The day’s violence, which began with masked demonstrators hurling petrol bombs and smashing windows at Admiralty and Wan Chai stations marked the 15th straight weekend that protests have gripped the city and raised questions over how the Asian financial hub’s future will be shaped.
The economic effects of the three-month crisis were brought into sharp focus on Sunday when Hong Kong International Airport released figures showing it had seen its biggest monthly drop in passengers for a decade in August as the protests prompted tourist and business visitors to cancel trips.
Few see any signs of an imminent return to calm. “We are never going to back down before Beijing does,” said one 28-year-old protester who gave his name as Peter. “We have fought for 100 days now. What makes anyone think we will give up now?”
Little has been done to mitigate the anger that underlies the demonstrations. Protesters complain of the difficulty in getting affordable housing. The recent offer by Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, to withdraw a bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China of suspects in Hong Kong, was widely described by demonstrators as “too little, too late”.
The grim prospects for many young Hong Kongers has caused some to speculate that the focus of protests might at some point shift towards the tycoons whose influence has defined Hong Kong’s development.
On Saturday, separate editorials in three Chinese state-owned media outlets criticised the Hong Kong property tycoons, suggesting that Hong Kong authorities seize undeveloped land and use it to build more housing. The People’s Daily in particular demanded that the landowners show their sincerity instead of “hoarding land for profit and earning every last penny”.
The editorial came in response to recent comments by Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, who said that the city’s young people were the “masters of our future” and remains a hero to many of the protesters. “Most HK people believe Li Ka-shing is pro democracy but the other tycoons are all in it for the money and they are trying to stay quiet and do whatever Beijing tells them to do,” said Roy, 30, a freelance artist among the protesters on Sunday. “Most of these tycoons bear responsibility for helping real estate prices rocket into space.”
The violence around the Admiralty area, which includes the government headquarters, erupted suddenly on an afternoon that had just an hour earlier seen families and tourists shopping and dining in the upmarket Pacific Place shopping mall across the road. By early evening bonfires of dustbins and cardboard boxes blazed at the station’s entrances as the mob stormed towards the busy Wan Chai and Causeway Bay districts.
Riot police met the protests with force, volleying tear gas into the crowds and deploying water cannons into the avenues that run alongside the Hong Kong offices of some of the world’s biggest financial institutions.
By nightfall, clashes between protesters and police had descended into outbreaks of fighting between rival groups of Hong Kong residents as tensions flared between pro-democracy supporters and pro-Beijing groups. As the protests have evolved, pro-democracy groups have increasingly clashed with small pockets of opponents. On Saturday, brawling between the rival mobs left dozens of people badly bloodied.