Fresh Hong Kong clashes outside mall but airport avoids disruption
Activists try to disrupt airport during 16th consecutive weekend of clashes but failed
HONG KONG: Pro-democracy protesters clashed with riot police outside a mall yesterday, with some activists vandalising a nearby subway station and defacing a Chinese flag, but plans to disrupt the airport did not materialise.
Police fired brief volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets in the northern town of Sha Tin late yesterday afternoon, capping a day which saw thousands rally peacefully inside a mall before the mood soured.
The authorities reduced rail and bus links to the city's airport while police stepped up security checks in a successful bid to stop a crowd from massing at the bustling transport hub.
The airport - the world's eighth busiest - has become a frequent target for demonstrators pushing for greater democratic rights and police accountability.
Online forums used by the largely leaderless movement had called for a "stress test" of the airport yesterday, code for disrupting travel links or occupying buildings.
Instead, thousands gathered inside a mall in the northern town of Sha Tin to sing protest songs and make origami cranes, the latest rally in what has now been 16 consecutive weekends of protests and clashes.
Many shops inside the complex shuttered but the unsanctioned rally remained civil for much of the afternoon.
"Even if we are tired, we can't give up on our rights," said a teacher at the rally, who gave her surname as Ching. "If it (the movement) stretches to 100 days, 200 days or even 1,000 days and we still don't get what we want, we will continue to come out."
Tensions rose later in the afternoon.
Masked activists paraded a Chinese flag through the mall that had been torn down from a nearby government building. It was later thrown into a nearby river.
Groups of masked protesters then vandalised ticket machines in Sha Tin's subway before riot police rushed in to close the station down.
Before police arrived, local TV networks showed footage of a man with bruises and cuts to his face being harangued by pro-democracy protesters inside the station.
A stand-off between police and a few dozen activists behind umbrella shield walls ensued but the protesters soon dispersed once tear gas and rubber bullets were launched at them.
Police made multiple arrests.
The protests were ignited by a now-abandoned plan to allow extraditions to China. Core demands from protesters now include an inquiry into the police, an amnesty for those arrested and universal suffrage - all rejected by the authorities and Beijing.
On Saturday, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hardcore activists throwing rocks and petrol bombs in two towns near the border with China.
This weekend's protest crowds have been noticeably smaller than some of the more recent rallies.
Protesters are aiming to draw out large crowds next weekend - the fifth anniversary of the start of a previous round of failed democracy protests - and on Oct 1, the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China. - AFP