HONG KONG (AP) — Police in Hong Kong fought with protesters on Sunday as they broke up a demonstration by thousands of people demanding the resignation of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s chief executive and an investigation into complaints of police violence.
The protest that began at about 3 p.m. in the northern district of Sha Tin was peaceful throughout most of the day. But some scuffles broke out after nightfall, when police with helmets and shields started clearing streets in the densely crowded area of high-rise buildings.
Hundreds of protesters, many wearing helmets and surgical masks, retreated into a shopping complex, where some threw umbrellas and water bottles at police. Police followed them, and reporters could see the two sides along walkways of several floors of the complex hitting each other with umbrellas and grabbing each other’s helmets.
The demonstration added to an outpouring of grievances over the past six months against the former British colony’s leaders. Critics complain they are eroding Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy and are more responsive to the Beijing government than to the territory’s people.
Protests that began last month in opposition to a proposed extradition law also have swelled to include complaints about an influx of mainland Chinese into Hong Kong.
On Sunday, protesters demanded an investigation into complaints that police assaulted participants in earlier demonstrations against the extradition law. Some carried signs reading “Police Are Liars.” Other signs read “Defend Hong Kong.”
“There were a lot of large-scale protests and the government has not responded to them,” said one protester, 59-year-old Peggie Cheung. “The police seem to have become even more violent. I didn’t think this protest would do much to help, but coming out on the streets felt like a responsibility to me.”
The protests reflect mounting complaints that Hong Kong’s leaders are eroding the freedoms and autonomy promised when the territory was returned to China in 1997.
Some protesters carried American or colonial-era Hong Kong flags.
The government of Chief Executive Carrie Lam suspended action last month on the extradition bill, which would have allowed Hong Kong crime suspects to be transferred to the mainland, where the ruling Communist Party controls the court system.
Lam apologized for her handling of the legislation, but critics are demanding she resign.
“Carrie Lam has been hiding,” said Nelson Yip, a man in his 40s who joined Sunday’s protest. “She has made many promises, but she has not been able to fulfill them. There is no sign she is going to fulfill them.”
On Saturday, police used clubs and tear gas to break up a crowd of mostly young protesters who called for tighter control on mainland traders who visit Hong Kong. Critics say they are improperly undercutting Hong Kong businesses.
Earlier Sunday, a group representing Hong Kong journalists marched to Lam’s office on Hong Kong island to highlight complaints that police beat and obstructed reporters at earlier demonstrations. They handed a letter addressed to the territory’s police commissioner to an officer.
“It seems that they have deliberately targeted the journalists,” said Chris Yeung, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.