The ongoing protest in Hong Kong over an extradition bill, turned violent on Wednesday as police used rubber bullets, tear gas and batons to beat protesters who tried to reach the parliament.
Clashes between the police and protesters broke out shortly after the deadline protesters had given for the government to abandon a controversial bill that would allow extraditions to China.
Protesters making use of umbrellas as shields, could be seen trying to get closer to riot police protecting the Legislative Council building, with projectiles thrown at officers.
Protesters “must stop the violence”, police chief Stephen Lo said, warning residents to stay away from a “riot situation”. He confirmed police were using plastic bullets.
The protesters – in their thousands – have halted activities in Hong Kong, barricading major roads in a defiant show of strength against the extradition bill.
Dressed in black, the protesters, most of them young people and students, surrounded government offices, bringing traffic to a standstill as they called on authorities to scrap the Beijing-backed plan.
Rows of riot police were far outnumbered by protesters – many of whom wore face masks, helmets or goggles – just hours ahead of a scheduled debate in the city’s legislature.
By late morning, with crowds continuing to swell, officials in the Legislative Council (Legco) said they would delay the second reading of the bill “to a later date”.
Police used water cannon and pepper spray on protesters outside the Legco building and held up signs warning demonstrators they were prepared to use force.
On Sunday, organisers of the march said more than a million people turned out to voice their objections to the proposed law, which would allow Hong Kong to send suspects to other jurisdictions around the world — including China.
But the record numbers have failed to sway pro-Beijing Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who has rejected calls to withdraw the bill.
Many opponents are fearful the law would entangle people in the mainland’s opaque courts, leaving them vulnerable to a justice system seen as acting at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party.
The protest has led to businesses closing for the day as a sign of solidarity with the protesters, and the city’s major student unions announced they would boycott classes to attend the rallies.
A string of other prominent unions in the transport, social work and teaching sectors either followed suit or encouraged members to attend while a bus drivers’ union said it would encourage members to drive deliberately slowly to support protests.