HONG KONG — Police fired tear gas and arrested protesters Saturday as pro-autonomy demonstrations spilled into some of Hong Kong’s most popular tourist areas days before a planned general strike after another weekend of unrest.
Separately, a smaller, pro-police rally was held in another area of the city, which saw demonstrators carrying Chinese flags and chanting messages of support for Hong Kong’s beleaguered police department.
Saturday’s march — the ninth weekend of sustained protests — deviated from a route authorized by police and went into the tourist-heavy shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon, which looks onto Victoria Harbor.
Protesters started their demonstration in the Mong Kok area farther north, a neighborhood where violent clashes had broken out previously during pro-democracy protests in 2014 and again in 2016.
There were no immediate details on arrests or injuries.
Protests in Hong Kong appear to be intensifying ahead of a planned general strike on Monday backed by thousands of businesses, airline workers unions, trade unions and others. The deepening crisis was sparked by a deeply unpopular bill that would allow extraditions to the mainland, but it has since swelled into a broader movement opposed to police use of force and the government’s handling of the upheaval. It has also reawakened calls for full democracy.
Hong Kong’s government has been under increased pressure to quell the anger. Beijing, meanwhile, has upped its warnings against the upheaval. The Chinese army garrison in Hong Kong released a video this week showing soldiers practicing shooting protesters. Protesters have remained defiant and are encompassing a wider swath of society, including civil servants.
Protesters on Saturday attempted to occupy roads that were not sealed off for their procession, including a cross-harbor tunnel. At one point, they removed a Chinese flag from a pole and flung it in into the harbor. At night, some set fire to the entrance of a police station and armed themselves with bricks in preparation for a standoff.
Police warned members of the public not to travel to the areas. Tear gas seeped into surrounding streets and restaurants. Tsim Sha Tsui is where dozens of Hong Kong’s luxury hotels and malls are located and is popular with foreign tourists.
The scenes at the competing rallies were in stark contrast.
In Kowloon, thousands of young masked protesters wearing black shouted cries of revolution as they were aided by shopkeepers who handed out free water and snacks and by residents who cheered them on.
Scuffles broke out at night across parts of Kowloon, including a residential district where people emerged from their homes and cursed at police, pushing a line of riot officers back, according to video from a local broadcaster. None of the residents appeared to have masks, protective gear or even umbrellas — typically used as a shield against riot police.
The park where the pro-police rally occurred was filled instead by predominantly older people dressed in white, speaking a range of Chinese dialects.
One of the pro-police demonstrators, who gave only his last name, Wong, and who appeared to be in his 50s, was carrying a Chinese flag with him and emphasized that Hong Kong is part of China.
“The police are correct, the protesters are the instigators and are hitting the police first,” he said, speaking in Mandarin. Most native Hong Kong residents speak Cantonese.
The denunciations of the police have intensified since mob attacks against protesters and bystanders returning from a huge march two weeks ago in Yuen Long. The attacks are suspected to be linked to organized crime groups known as triads. The police took almost 40 minutes to arrive despite receiving more than 24,000 emergency calls, and in that time, more than 40 people were hurt, some seriously.
Samson Chan, a 50-year old assistant to a Hong Kong district councilor, was again on the front lines on Saturday. Every weekend, he has helped to mediate between police and protesters, urging restraint from both.
Last weekend, Chan was hit in the back of the head by a projectile. He was left bloodied, was hospitalized and required seven stitches. He is still unclear on what the nature of the projectile was and whether it was thrown by police or protesters.
Over the past week, police have appeared at his home in an effort to arrest him for participating in an unlawful assembly, but he insists he has always played the role of mediator.
“I am a mediator and I should not be arrested for trying to help the youngsters. And I am not worried about getting injured — I already am injured,” he said. “I will not stop protecting our youth.”