HONG KONG: Hong Kong riot police fired tear gas at a university campus on Tuesday and residents of the Asian financial centre struggled to get to work as territory-wide transport disruptions wreaked commuter havoc and activists planned flash protests. There were chaotic scenes as people thronged metro stations, only to stream out shortly after, clogging footpaths as they queued for buses or alternative transport after some train services were disrupted or suspended.
Some roads were closed early in the morning with long traffic jams building during rush hour, a day after some of the worst violence to rock the former British colony. A protester was shot by police and a man set on fire on Monday. Riot police were deployed at metro stations across the territory, while rail operator MTR Corp urged people to use other forms of transport. "It is very inconvenient for me because I have a few meetings to go to in Central," said a 38-year-old man who gave his name as Rodney and who works as a legal consultant for an international firm.
"Hopefully my partners will understand that my city is going through a tough period," he said, adding that he blames Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam for the protests. Protesters urged people to gather in the Central business district on Hong Kong Island and the bustling Kowloon tourism and shopping area of Tsim Sha Tsui at noon. Police fired tear gas on Monday in the narrow streets of Central where some protesters, crouching behind umbrellas, blocked streets during lunch hour.
Passengers streamed out of at least one train that was forced to stop when barricades blocked the rail line. Universities and schools cancelled classes, with students, teachers and parents on edge a day after police fired tear gas and students hurled petrol bombs on some campuses. Lam said protesters who tried to paralyse the city were being extremely selfish and hoped that universities and schools would urge students not to take part in the demonstrations.
More than 260 people were arrested on Monday, police said, bringing the total number to more than 3,000 since the protests escalated in June. The metro station at Sai Wan Ho on eastern Hong Kong island, where a 21-year-old protester was shot at close range on Monday, was among those closed.
`ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE`
Lam said on Monday the violence in the former British colony had exceeded protesters` demands for democracy and demonstrators were now the people`s enemy. Protesters are angry about what they see as police brutality and meddling by Beijing in the freedoms guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula put in place when the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997. China denies interfering and has blamed Western countries, including Britain and the United States, for stirring up trouble.
The United States condemned the unjustified use of deadly force in the latest violence and urged police and citizens to de-escalate the crisis. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus also urged Beijing to honour its commitments that Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy and human rights, including the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Protesters clashed with police into the early hours of Tuesday after fierce skirmishes throughout Monday, when more than 100 people were injured.
Many workers were sent home early on Monday and shops and restaurants shut by the evening as the violence escalated, piling further pressure on an economy that entered a recession in the third quarter for the first time in a decade. An editorial in the state-backed China Daily newspaper condemned the violence on Monday and took aim at the "leniency of Hong Kong judges". "Allowing (protesters) to apply for bail on easy terms and handing down extraordinarily light sentences has also served to encourage inhuman terrorist acts," it said.