Hong Kong police on Saturday vowed to pursue anti-government protesters who launched a 15-hour siege of their headquarters as historic rallies aimed at ousting the city’s pro-Beijing leader evolve.
Thousands of largely young protesters surrounded the headquarters throughout Friday and into the small hours of Saturday morning, the latest manifestation of angry demonstrations roiling Hong Kong.
The international finance hub has been rocked by the worst political unrest since its 1997 handover to China.
Millions have marched this month to oppose a hugely unpopular proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to the Chinese mainland.
Officers also used tear gas and rubber bullets last week to clear protesters during another massive demonstration outside the city’s parliament, fanning widespread anger at the police.
The spark for the current wave of protests was an attempt by chief executive Carrie Lam to pass the Beijing-backed extradition law, which she has now postponed following the huge public backlash.
But the demonstrations have morphed into a wider movement against Lam’s administration and Beijing after years of sliding political freedoms.
Protest leaders plan to hold another huge rally on July 1 but student-led groups — communicating through encrypted messaging apps — have begun embracing spontaneous, fast-moving acts of civil disobedience.
“We need to flow like water”, one protester called Chris told AFP, espousing a famous philosophy from martial arts superstar and Hong Kong legend Bruce Lee.
It was unclear if demonstrators would rally in large numbers for a third weekend, with the streets quiet and popular protest sites nearly devoid of people on Saturday.
Eric, a 22-year-old office worker and protester, said he would wait to see what directions came through on social media in the coming days.
“There are many camps and each person has their own way of resistance,” he told AFP.
During Friday’s demonstrations outside police headquarters, large crowds of protesters blockaded entrances, taped over CCTV cameras and shouted at police.
Many chanted “release the righteous” and “shame on police thugs” — references to those detained during violence last week between demonstrators and the police.
Opposition groups have demanded an investigation into allegations of police brutality and the release of those detained during the clashes.
Officers remained inside their fortified building throughout Friday.
The protest was noisy but peaceful — with the exception of thrown eggs and demonstrators shining laser pens at the windows.
The crowds eventually dispersed in the early hours of Saturday some 15 hours after their demonstration began.
In a statement Saturday morning, police called the protest “illegal, irrational and unreasonable” saying it would “stringently follow up” on those behind the blockade.
Supporters were later seen handing flowers to officers.
“We are very angry, we think Hong Kong is a very peaceful place, we should express our ideas in a peaceful way,” Tsoi Hak-hin, 52, told AFP.
Police have defended using tear gas and rubber bullets on June 12 as a necessary and proportionate response to meet violent protesters who were trying to break into the city’s parliament.
But rights group Amnesty International said Friday it had verified multiple instances of police violence that breached international laws while influential legal bodies in Hong Kong have backed an inquiry into police tactics.
Although Hong Kong was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, it is still administered separately under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems”.
The city enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland but many residents have been alarmed in recent years by what they feel is a tighter grip by Beijing.
Hong Kong’s leaders are not elected and calls for universal suffrage have fallen on deaf ears.
In 2014, pro-democracy protesters seized key intersections for two months but failed to win any concessions from Beijing.
Since then, many of that movement’s leaders have been jailed while some Beijing critics have found themselves banned from politics or even disappearing into Chinese custody.
Opposition to the extradition bill managed to unite a wide cross section of Hong Kong.
Critics feared the law would ensnare both Hong Kongers and foreigners in mainland China’s opaque and politicised justice system, and also give Beijing a tool to target critics based in the semi-autonomous territory.