Beijing yesterday described the mass protests against Hong Kong’s extradition bill as “riots”, and said it supported the local government’s response despite international pressure to respect the rights of Hong Kongers.
Police used rubber bullets and tear gas to break up crowds Wednesday after demonstrators -- angry over legislation they say would leave people vulnerable to China’s politicised justice system -- blocked roads and brought the city to a standstill.
Videos of Hong Kong police beating unarmed protesters have also sparked accusations of brutality.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam and other city officials “have already spoken on the latest state of affairs, pointing out that what happened in the Admiralty area was not a peaceful rally, but a riot organised by a group.”
“I think that any act that undermines Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability goes against Hong Kong mainstream public opinion,” Geng said at a regular press briefing.
“We support the Hong Kong government’s dealing with the situation in accordance with the law.”
Wednesday’s violence left 79 people hurt, with two in serious condition, in the biggest political unrest since Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997.
Sporadic demonstrations broke out again yesterday, with occasional scuffles with police, but crowds were much smaller and there was no repeat of the running battles of the day before.
The government attempted to lower the temperature by indefinitely postponing a parliamentary debate on the bill which had been scheduled for Wednesday and triggered the scenes at parliament.
But demonstrators have vowed no let up in their campaign, calling for a rally on Sunday and a city-wide strike on Monday.
“(We) will fight until the end with Hong Kong people,” said Jimmy Sham from the Civil Human Rights Front, the main protest group, adding that they had applied for permission to hold the weekend rally.
“When facing ignorance, contempt and suppression, we will only be stronger, there will only be more Hong Kong people,” he told reporters.
The international community has voiced concern over Wednesday’s violence.
The European Union called for the “fundamental right” of Hong Kongers to assemble and express themselves to be respected as it became the latest grouping to add its voice to a growing chorus of criticism of the bill.
The EU “shares many of the concerns raised by citizens of Hong Kong”, it said, drawing an angry response from China which dismissed the comments as “irresponsible and erroneous”.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said it was vital the proposed law did not breach the deal China agreed to allowing Hong Kong to retain its freedoms for at least 50 years.
US President Donald Trump told reporters in Washington he could “understand the reason for the demonstration” and that he hoped “it all works out for China and for Hong Kong”.
The police response has drawn criticism from a range of influential bodies including lawmakers, journalists and legal groups, with calls for an independent inquiry into “excessive force” from a top legal body that helps elect the city’s leader.
The Hong Kong Bar Association also weighed in, saying the police force “may well have overstepped its lawful powers” with “wholly unnecessary force against largely unarmed protesters who did not appear to pose any immediate threat to the police or the public”.
But Beijing said it fully supported the city authorities’ handling of the protests.
Police chief Stephen Lo defended his officers yesterday, saying they “had no choice but to escalate the use of force”.
He said 11 arrests had been made so far and that 22 officers had been injured. At least 150 rounds of tear gas had been fired while 19 complaints of police violence had been reported and would be investigated.
Throughout the day police and officials worked to open roads and remove barricades thrown up in the city’s commercial heart, a district that boasts many international companies.
At a park next to parliament, much of the clean-up operation was done by young protesters who gathered piles of garbage, discarded protective gear and broken umbrellas -- a symbol of the rallies.