HONG KONG, Nov. 6 (UPI) — A peaceful pro-democracy march that drew thousands of people in Hong Kong turned violent Sunday night.
Demonstrators attempted to storm a police barricade outside the Chinese government’s headquarters. Police retaliated with pepper spray and batons.
Estimates varied on the number of demonstrators who marched 2 1/2 miles across town to oppose Beijing’s decision last week to determine the fate of two lawmakers who called for outright independence of Hong Kong from China. Organizers put the number at 13,000 and police said it was 8,000. About 700 officers were deployed to handle the protesters, with hundreds more on standby, including elite “raptor” officers, a source told the South China Morning Post.
The demonstrators carried flags and banners, including one that said “hands off our judiciary.” A Taiwanese flag was waved.
On Friday, the Hong Kong government announced Beijing would interpret the Basic Law to decide if 25-year-old Yau Wai-ching and 30-year-old Sixtus “Baggio” Leung would still be able to take their seats. On Oct. 12, they refused to pledge allegiance to Hong Kong’s constitution, the Basic Law, and instead swore instead to the “Hong Kong Nation.”
The new lawmakers attempted to retake their oaths Wednesday. Yau claimed she had recited the oath and was sworn in, but Sixtus was restrained and did not take an oath.
“This shows that Hong Kong people do not want any interpretation of the Basic Law,” Leung told Bloomberg News during the march. “The Hong Kong people do not want Hong Kong destroyed.”
The issue is being decided in a local court, but Zhang Xiaoming, mainland China’s most senior official in Hong Kong, said Beijing would “absolutely” not permit pro-independence politicians to serve, according to the South China Morning Post.
Zhang spoke at a meeting with local delegates to the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
In 1997, when the British returned the former colony to China, Hong Kongers maintained the right to freedom of speech and protest, freedoms that citizens of mainland China don’t possess.
The demonstrators marched from the district of Wan Chai to the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government, where they faced a police barricade.
Officers had unfurled banners urging the protesters to stop charging or they would use force.
“The [Chinese government] stepped over the line. It’s a blatant violation of the Basic Law to take the initiative to interpret it,” 25-year-old Francis Chung, who works in the financial sector, told Time. “I’m rather pessimistic regarding Hong Kong’s way forward, but I’ll do what I can, come out and march.”
Senior police superintendent Tse Kwok-wai said during a 2 a.m. Monday that briefing police could increase their presence if protesters refused to stop their “violent acts” and leave the scene in an orderly way. He said some protesters removed bricks from the ground to attack officers.