Hong Kong police fired pepper ball rounds and pepper spray in Central on Tuesday night as hundreds of demonstrators marked the one year anniversary of a huge march that kicked off months of pro-democracy unrest. More than 50 were arrested in the process.
On June 9 last year, more than one million people – according to organiser estimates – took to the streets to oppose a now-withdrawn extradition bill which would have allowed fugitive transfers to mainland China.
It was followed by more than half a year of large-scale protests, which escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour amid calls for democratic reform and anger over Beijing’s encroachment.
Crowds responded to online calls to gather in Chater Garden in Central at around 6:30 pm.
There was a heavy police presence beforehand, with officers stationed at the park entrances and others patrolled the area whilst conducted stop and searches.
At around 6:15 pm, riot police entered the park and warned people to leave. They took away at least one man and one woman after they argued with officers on site.
At around 7 pm, hundreds began to march on along the vehicle lanes of Queen’s Road Central and Des Voeux Road Central. Demonstrators displayed their phone flashlights and chanted slogans including “Hongkongers, build a nation” and “Hong Kong independence, the only way out.”
Police said demonstrators had obstructed traffic and posed a “grave threat to road safety.” They attempted to disperse crowds with pepper spray and made at least two arrests on Des Voeux Road Central.
Crowds scattered around the central business district, whilst police continued to stop and search citizens’ belongings.
Police raised a blue flag – warning people that they were participating in an unlawful procession – several times throughout the night.
The force wrote on Facebook that officers had found a can of paint thinner, glass bottles and several umbrellas on a footbridge in Central at around 8 pm. They suspected the items could have been used by protesters who hurled objects earlier in the night.
At around 10 pm, officers fired pepper balls outside Hip Shing Hong Centre, followed by several bursts of pepper spray near a Hong Kong MTR station exit. Some people were stopped and searched by police outside the station, including those wearing first aid vests, according to local media.
The force said protesters had behaved in a “disorderly” manner and ignored police warnings on repeatedly blocking roads. As of midnight, a total of 53 people – 36 men and 17 women – were arrested in Central for allegedly participating in unauthorised assemblies, according to a police Facebook post.
Yuen Long District Councillors Ng Kin-wai, Lam Chun and To Ka-lun were among the group of people taken away on police coaches.