HONG KONG, Sep 15, 2019, Bangkok Post. Violence broke out at a pro-China rally in Hong Kong’s Kowloon district on Saturday and police made multiple arrests as officers maintained a heavy presence at rail stations to prevent planned disruptions to airport transport services, reported the Bangkok Post.
Hundreds of pro-Beijing demonstrators sang the Chinese national anthem, waved red flags and chanted slogans at Amoy Plaza in the densely packed Kowloon district. Counterprotesters quickly gathered there, sparking tensions as the two camps heckled each other.
The situation turned chaotic with groups of people trading blows and some using umbrellas to hit their opponents. Police later moved in to defuse the situation, with several people detained.
The clashes amid the mid-autumn festival holiday came after several nights of peaceful rallies that featured mass singing at shopping malls by supporters of the months-long pro-democracy protests.
Thousands of people also carried lanterns with pro-democracy messages in public areas and formed illuminated human chains on two of the city’s peaks on Friday night to mark the festival.
Protesters have refused to yield despite the government’s promise to withdraw an extradition bill that triggered the protests. They have widened their demands to include direct elections for their leaders and better accountability from the police.
The Civil Human Rights Front — the organiser of several large but peaceful rallies earlier this summer — cancelled its plan to march through the city centre on Sunday after authorities upheld a ban on it. Police cited violence around previous protests, saying the route was too close to “high-risk buildings” including government offices and subway stations.
A spokesman for Airport Authority Hong Kong said in an email that operations were normal on Saturday. Protesters had planned a “stress test” on transport to the airport but it appeared to have come to nothing. Riot police patrolled train stations in the city centre, while no demonstrators could be seen and trains ran on schedule.
In another development, the first demonstrator to be sentenced during months of social unrest was ordered to 80 hours of community service by a Hong Kong court on Friday, the South China Morning Post reported.
Cheung Wing-kei, 37, who pleaded guilty to criminal damage, threw metal objects at a wall of Castle Peak Police Station in Tuen Mun on Aug 9 when demonstrators surrounded the facility, according to the report. Acting Principal Magistrate Cheung Kit-yee said he had put officers in danger, the newspaper said.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong police department suspended its anti-violence hotline on WhatsApp, only three days after launching it.
The hotline, launched on Tuesday, was an effort to solicit photos, recordings and videos from the public, the police said in a statement on its website. The service had been suspended due to “different opinions”, a police statement said.
A spokeswoman for Facebook said the numbers had been removed from its WhatsApp service “as part of our ongoing work to remove automated and bulk messaging from our system”, adding that the app was “primarily designed for private messaging”.
More than 1,300 people have been arrested since the protests began in early June. The unrest has further battered Hong Kong’s economy, which was already reeling from the US-China trade war.