Hong Kong was rocked Wednesday by the worst political unrest since its handover to China as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who tried to storm parliament and blocked roads in the financial hub.
The violent protests were the latest expression of widespread public anger over the government’s controversial Beijing-backed plan to allow extraditions to China.
Clashes broke out hours after tens of thousands of people seized key arteries in the morning rush hour and surrounded the city’s parliament, forcing lawmakers to postpone a debate on the proposed law.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is championing the law’s passage, described the protests as “organised riots” and called for calm to be restored.
“The rioting actions that damage peaceful society, ignoring law and discipline is unacceptable for any civilised societies,” she said in a video statement.
Police earlier used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to battle crowds of black-clad demonstrators — most of them young people and students — demanding authorities scrap the Beijing-backed law.
The scenes echoed the pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” of 2014 where protesters calling for greater democratic rights shut down swathes of the city for two months and battled police, but won no concessions from Beijing.
This time police appeared determined not to let protesters hold any ground while the young demonstrators responded in kind, hurling projectiles including metal poles, bottles and bricks.
Tear gas sent the crowds scattering, but riot police continued to fight cat and mouse battles with their opponents into the evening, bringing the centre of the international finance hub to a standstill.
Authorities said 22 people were injured, with wounded police and protesters seen being carried away.