HONG KONG - Hong Kong police fired tear gas, water cannon and pepper balls at separate groups totaling thousands of people who came out in protest at plans by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing to impose draconian national security legislation and crack downs on dissent in the city.
Police made 120 arrests in multiple clashes in the shopping and nightlife districts of Causeway Bay and Wanchai, repeatedly firing tear gas into busy streets and firing water cannon at one group.
Protesters blocked major streets, dug up paving bricks and set small fires, leaving other forms of debris on the roads to slow down traffic and riot police.
Police said several officers were hit by bricks and bottles thrown by protesters, amid growing social tensions following months of anti-government protests and widespread police violence.
Sporadic groups formed of people wearing face-masks in the Causeway Bay shopping district on Hong Kong Island, spreading debris across the streets and tramlines in some areas to slow down hundreds of armed riot police who were dispatched to the area.
In a marked difference from previous protests, protesters chanted "Hong Kong independence is the only solution!" among other slogans.
Some bystanders hurled insults at police as they stood guard at major intersections in the district.
"Communist dogs!" yelled one group of protesters, with sarcastic applause, as a column of riot police passed through, according to a live Twitter thread from Hong Kong-based correspondent for Agence France-Presse Xinqi Su.
Some signs left on the ground bore slogans saying "Down with the communist regime," Su's thread showed.
A woman reacts after riot police fired tear gas to disperse protesters taking part in a pro-democracy rally against a proposed new security law in Hong Kong, May 24, 2020. AFP Middle finger to police
Police displayed warning flags to a crowd outside the H&M store, warning that the gathering was illegal, eliciting cheers from the crowd, many of whom gave the police the middle finger in response, Su reported.
Police then fired tear gas and pepper bullets, apparently at random. In one location, a child emerging from a nearby restaurant with his mother was among those hit, social media reports showed.
"The police's anti-riot vehicle shot out three or four bursts of a clear liquid at Canal Road shortly before 3.30pm, sending some journalists filming the scene to try to scramble out of the way," government broadcaster RTHK reported.
Twitter user Ayoma Kobbekaduwa wrote: "If we give into the Chinese CCP now......our kids, grandchildren and great grandchildren will be forever at the mercy of the Chinese Government. And I think it's safe to say, that mercy is something that the CCP severely lacks. Go HK !"
China's National People's Congress (NPC) on Friday revealed plans to send its feared state security agents into Hong Kong to pursue people suspected of "sedition," "subversion," or to be doing the work of 'foreign forces' during the city's months-long protest movement.
In a move that likely signals the end of Hong Kong's promised autonomy and traditional freedoms of speech and association, the ruling Chinese Communist Party tabled a draft "decision" to the NPC on May 21, the first day of the rubber-stamp assembly's annual session.
Citing "notable national security risks" in Hong Kong, NPC vice chairman Wang Chen said "forceful measures must be taken to prevent, stop and punish such activities," in a reference to anti-government protests that erupted nearly a year ago over plans to allow extradition to mainland China.
The decision will enable the authorities to "prevent, stop and punish" any activities deemed by Beijing to be subversive, or instigated by "foreign forces."
When needed, state security police from mainland China will set up shop in Hong Kong to fulfill their duties under the new law, according to a precis of the decision supplied by state-run Xinhua news agency.
'One country, two systems' death knell feared
Once the decision is approved by the NPC, the NPC standing committee will formulate the necessary legislation and insert it into Annex 3 of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, after which it will become law in Hong Kong without the need for scrutiny or a vote in the city's Legislative Council (LegCo), the report said.
Commentators in the city said the announcement marked the end of Hong Kong's promised autonomy under the "one country, two systems" formula.
The move was also widely condemned by foreign governments and rights groups as a breach of China's obligations under the treaty governing the handover.
"This blatant move signals further acceleration of Beijing's efforts to dismantle the 'one country, two systems' framework that was intended to protect the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms, and to ensure a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong," Sharon Hom, executive director of the New York based group Human Rights in China (HRIC).
"The decision to ram a national security law down the throats of the people of Hong Kong has been made, sadly and outrageously, with the shameless complicity of a politically incompetent Chief Executive, Carrie Lam," Hom said.
HRIC concluded: "It seems highly unlikely that the [NPC standing committee] will formulate a national security law for Hong Kong that conforms to international norms and standards and respects and protects the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals."
"It is far more likely that the legislation will be another politicized weapon in the hands of Beijing to ensure only voices and activities that toe the party line will be allowed," the May 23 statement said.
Reported by Gigi Lee and Man Hoi-tsan for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
Copyright 1998-2018, RFA. Published with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036