Oct. 20 (UPI) — Hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong defied a ban on assembly to participate in protests on Sunday, as some set fires and police fired a water cannon with blue dye at a mosque.
Demonstrators lined up through Hong Kong’s Kowloon area carrying colored umbrellas and some carried Catalonian flags in a show of solidarity with independence protests taking place in the Spanish region.
Clashes between demonstrators and police escalated quickly with some throwing petrol bombs and setting fire to stores associated with mainland China.
The fires began at about 3 p.m. and continued for about eight hours as police responded by firing tear gas and water cannons at the crowd.
Hong Kong authorities said violence in the protests has escalated, saying police intercepted a vehicle with “a large number” of petrol bombs and that “suspected explosive items” were found throughout the city.
Kowloon Mosque was on alert ahead of the protests in fear of retribution against ethnic minority groups in the city after a Civil Human Rights Front leader Jimmy Sham was attacked by a group of men described to be of South Asian descent last week.
Volunteers and demonstrators stood outside of the mosque hilding signs calling for people not to attack ethnic minority people or buildings, but a police truck fired a water cannon with blue dye at those outside.
The blue dye is meant to make it easier for police to identify demonstrators and stained the stairs of the mosque.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Jeremy Tam said the police’s decision to fire water cannons at the mosque was “ridiculous.”
“We came here to protect the mosque against protesters, but it was the police that did this,” said Tam.
Police issued a statement saying the mosque was “accidentally affected” and said the contacted Muslim community leaders to clarify the situation and express concern.