Hong Kong police fired volleys of tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters on Saturday – sending tourists fleeing weeping in Kowloon – only for demonstrators to regroup and gather elsewhere during another tense, hot and restive weekend.
Weeks of increasingly violent protests have plunged Hong Kong into its biggest political crisis for decades, posing a serious challenge to China’s central government in Beijing.
On Saturday activists rallied across the city, with thousands occupying the airport arrivals hall for a second day, while elsewhere police displayed a new willingness to quickly and forcibly clear them from the streets.
That became a cat-and-mouse chase with demonstrators late into the summer night.
Tear gas was used without much warning shortly after several hundred activists who had marched through Tai Po, in the north of the territory, had barricaded an intersection in the Tai Wai neighborhood around nightfall.
They dispersed, as noxious smoke also filled the train station there, bringing train passengers to tears.
Then demonstrators popped up again in Kowloon, a large urban district on the mainland side of Hong Kong’s harbor, only for police to fire another volley of gas from Tsim Sha Tsui police station, sending nearby tourists running with welling tears.
Several other exchanges followed, with protesters, wearing helmets and masks, mostly withdrawing when police fired gas or advanced with shields and truncheons, exhausting authorities and leaving the weeks-long stand-off little closer to resolution.
Luxury shops were caught up in the protests, with some shoppers even taking pictures of riot police, while other bystanders – at one stage hundreds – jeered the officers.
“If the government thinks we’ll give up and not come out anymore they’re wrong,” said student Chris Wong, 20, at Tai Po.
“Carrie Lam is now spreading lies and blaming us for destroying Hong Kong’s economy. But she’s the one who is destroying Hong Kong,” he said. “We’ll continue to fight…but we’re also going to be smart and wear them down.”
Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, said on Friday the economy – already buffeted by China’s slowing economy and the U.S.-China trade war – was being undermined by the protests, which began in June.
A government spokesman described the day’s demonstrations as “illegal activities” that have “been significantly affecting people’s daily lives”.
Demonstrators, most of them young, appeared only to be digging in. Late on Saturday they flashed laser pointers at riot police and lifted bricks and scavenged building materials to barricade roads in Kowloon