Hong Kong police yesterday fired tear gas in the Central financial district, over the harbour in Mong Kok and at universities to break up pro-democracy protests which they said were leading the city to the “brink of total breakdown”.
The clashes came a day after police shot a protester at close range and a man was doused with petrol and set on fire in some of the worst violence in the Chinese-ruled city in decades.
A flash mob of more than 1,000 protesters, many wearing office clothes and face masks, rallied in Central for a second day during lunch hour, blocking roads below some of the city’s tallest skyscrapers and most expensive real estate.
After they had dispersed, police fired tear gas at the remaining protesters on old, narrow Pedder Street. Police made more than a dozen arrests, many pinned up on the pavement against the wall of luxury jeweller Tiffany & Co.
“Our society has been pushed to the brink of a total breakdown,” a police spokesman told a briefing, referring to the last two days of violence in the former British colony.
He said masked “rioters” had committed “insane” acts, such as throwing trash, bicycles and other debris onto metro tracks and overhead power lines, paralysing the transport system.
He said the man set on fire on Monday was still in critical condition and appealed for information on who was responsible.
Police also fired tear gas at City University in Kowloon Tong, beneath the Lion Rock, and at Chinese University on the other side of the mountain, where protesters threw petrol bombs and bricks at police.
Protesters at City University had stockpiled bricks and petrol bombs on the bridges and other approaches and were making small devices with nails. They had overrun the campus and were smashing up the next-door Festival Walk shopping mall and setting fires.
Police also fired tear gas in the nearby new town of Tai Po and in the densely populated Kowloon district of Mong Kok, whose shopping artery Nathan Road has been the scene of many clashes.
The violence prompted western powers to urge Beijing and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to find a compromise with protesters who are seeking greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.
Britain said the latest violence was “deeply disturbing”. The United States condemned “unjustified use of deadly force” in Hong Kong.
Carrie Lam said protesters were being extremely selfish and hoped that universities and schools would urge students not to take part in the demonstrations.
More than 260 people were arrested on Monday, police said, bringing the total number to more than 3,000 since the protests escalated in June. Schools and universities were closed yesterday.
Protesters are angry about what they see as police brutality and meddling by Beijing in the freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when the territory returned to China from British rule in 1997. China denies interfering and has blamed Western countries for stirring up trouble.