Hong Kong riot police pepper-sprayed protesters to disperse crowds in the heart of the city’s financial district on Sunday after a largely peaceful rally in support of China’s ethnic Uighurs turned chaotic.
A mixed crowd of young and elderly people, dressed in black and wearing masks to shield their identities, held up signs reading “Free Uyghur, Free Hong Kong” and “Fake ‘autonomy’ in China results in genocide.”
Hong Kong police marched across a public square overlooking Hong Kong’s harbour to face off with protesters who hurled glass bottles and rocks at them.
They resisted the urge to respond until protesters took down the Chinese national flag from a pole. This prompted an immediate scurry from the Riot police and one officer began pointed his gun towards the protesters. No reports of gunshot were made.
but that prompted more police officers to join the search for the flag and then found themselves outnumbered and surrounded by protesters.
Police officers panicked and hit the protesters with batons and pepper spray and raised a black flag warning of tear gas.
The police’s heavy-handed clampdown on demonstrations and frequent use of tear gas have incensed many protesters.
Earlier in the afternoon more than 1,000 people had rallied calmly, waving Uighur flags and posters, as they took part in the latest demonstration in over six months of unrest.
“I think basic freedom and independence should exist for all people, not just for Hong Kong,” said a 41-year-old woman surnamed Wong who attended the protest with her husband.
The protest comes after Mesut Ozil, the Arsenal footballer, shared a social media post about the plight and persecution of the Uighurs in China. Ozil criticised the country’s policies toward the Muslim ethnic minority in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Ozil, a German Muslim of Turkish origin, tweeted that Uighurs were “warriors who resist persecution” and criticized both China’s strong hand in Xinjiang and the silence of Muslims leaders in response.
Protests in Hong Kong are now in their seventh month, albeit in a relative year-end lull. Many residents are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
China denies interfering and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula put in place at that time and has blamed foreign forces for fomenting unrest.
On Saturday, Hong Kong riot police swept into several shopping malls, chasing off and arresting demonstrators pressing their demands in the peak shopping weekend before Christmas.
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