Anti-government protesters occupied major roads in Hong Kong on Monday as the city was hit by a general strike and black-clad anti-extradition protesters besieged police stations across the city, setting fires outside one following peaceful demonstrations attended by thousands of people.
An estimated 10,000 workers went on strike across several key sectors in the city on Monday, as protesters occupied major highways, and police fired tear gas at them on Harcourt Road in Admiralty, Lung Cheung Road under Kowloon's Lion Rock, as well Nathan Road and Waterloo Road in downtown Kowloon.
Police also fired tear gas on protesters and local residents who set up barricades and occupied major roads in the new towns of Tai Po and Tin Shui Wai to the east and west of the New Territories, with local residents staying out on the streets hurling abuse at police until well into the middle of the night in some areas.
Meanwhile, a demonstration outside Shatin police station saw some protesters setting fire to pallets and other street debris right against the police station walls after 30,000 people turned out earlier in the day to protest police brutality in a shopping mall in the dormitory town.
Police responded to escalating protests in Kowloon's Sham Shui Po district by ordering nearby MTR stations to close, in a bid to prevent more protesters from flocking to the area.
All of the occupations and clashes were preceded by peaceful rallies earlier in the day, which began with widespread disruption of train services after protesters held up trains by throwing objects on the tracks.
The Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Corp. said there had been a "large number of cases of passengers activating Passenger Alarm Devices on trains or Platform Emergency Plungers on platforms, obstructing train doors and platform screen doors as well as obstructing trains."
Protesters press demands
Participants at the rallies chanted "Go Hongkongers!" and called on the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam to meet protesters' demands, which include the full withdrawal of amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which would enable the extradition of anyone Beijing deems a criminal suspect to face trial in mainland Chinese courts.
Protesters also want a full amnesty for dozens of people arrested, many of them on charges of "rioting," and an independent public inquiry into the government and police force's handling of the crisis.
Police have arrested 420 people aged from 14 to 76, fired 1,000 tear gas rounds, 160 rubber bullets, and 150 sponge rounds since protests began to escalate on June 6, according to a statement at a news conference on Monday.
Protesters are also demanding the government stop describing protests as "riots," and take steps to implement political reforms that would bring about fully democratic elections to the Legislative Council (LegCo) and for the chief executive.
Some 200 flights at Hong Kong's normally super-efficient international airport were canceled as air traffic controllers joined the general strike, and striking workers gathered at the airport itself to call on the government to take heed of public opinion.
Meanwhile, a group of men in white shirts and armed with sticks and rods attacked protesters in North Point, with protesters fighting back and forcing the attackers to withdraw, according to the Apple Daily live video feed and social media posts from the scene.
"As the night descended, Hong Kong was waking up to the fact that the city has drifted into uncharted waters with no one clear where this is all headed," government broadcaster RTHK said in a news report commenting on the day's events.
Riot police were deployed in force in the streets around the ruling Chinese Communist Party's Central Liaison Office in the city's Western district, while the area around LegCo and government headquarters was left relatively open.
A crowd gathered outside LegCo on Monday for the first time since the storming of the chamber on July 1, but soon dispersed to occupy nearby Harcourt Road, also a key site of the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.
'National dignity hurt'
Beijing's Hong Kong a Macau Affairs Office hit out on Monday at the actions of protesters who threw a Chinese national flag into Hong Kong's iconic Victoria Harbour on Saurday, saying they had "offended national dignity and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people."
A resident surnamed Chu who was making food donations to protesters at the front line said the government would now have to face the consequences of ignoring public opinion.
"If you ignore public opinion, there will be consequences," Chu said.
"Hong Kong protesters have done some stuff that was a bit over the top, but there are so many people out protesting in Hong Kong, and yet the government pays no attention to public opinion."
"We will keep going until the job's done and our demands are met, otherwise we won't stop," she said. "Why is the dictatorship [in China] trying to put all of the blame onto the people of Hong Kong, calling them violent, when they won't even reflect on their own violence?"
London-based rights group Amnesty International has said the police are largely to blame for protester violence, because they have a tendency to use tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and batons to attack the crowd, and that police justification that the protests hadn't received prior approval wasn't in line with international human rights standards.
Public anger began to spiral after a gang of triad-linked men in white shirts attacked train passengers at Yuen Long MTR station on July 21.
Nobody was arrested at the time, and police took around 40 minutes to move in on the attackers, who left dozens of people hospitalized, one in a critical condition.
However, police have arrested dozens of protesters, many of them high-schoolers, college students, and young professionals, on suspicion of "rioting" following clashes between police and anti-extradition protesters in recent weeks.
Beijing urges action
Beijing has called on authorities in Hong Kong to take rapid steps to punish anyone who has broken the city's laws following weeks of angry protests over plans to allow extradition to mainland China.
Chinese officials have declined to comment on whether Beijing will order its People's Liberation Army (PLA) garrison to intervene in Hong Kong, referring only to the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which allows for that possibility if the request is made by the Hong Kong government.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam told a news conference on Monday that the city is now heading down "a dangerous path," but declined to respond to any of the protesters' demands.
"They are saying that they want to make revolution and reclaim Hong Kong, but these demands have now gone far beyond the original [five] demands," Lam told reporters.
"I understand that people are unhappy with the government, but I call on everyone to reflect about whether they want to undermine the stable lives of more than seven million people, and obstruct Hong Kong's future."
"This will take Hong Kong down the path of no return, in which good and bad are both destroyed," she said.
Threat to city's status
The amendments are widely seen as a threat to Hong Kong's way of life, which was supposed to have been protected by the "one country, two systems" framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.
If they become law, the city could lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction and trading entity, while journalists, visitors, rights activists, dissidents, democratic politicians, and members of the business community could be targeted for words and actions deemed illegal by Chinese officials.
They could then be extradited to face trial in Chinese courts, which are directly controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.