HONG KONG — Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Saturday appealed in a Facebook post for dialogue between her government and protesters, as demonstrators again took to the streets and clashed violently with police despite the deliberate closure of subway stops in the vicinity of their planned protest.
“After more than two months of escalated protests, we are all tired. Can we just sit down and talk about it?” Lam said in her post Saturday afternoon. She added that “prolonged fighting is not the way out” of Hong Kong’s crisis and appealed to protesters to take seriously her proposal to launch a platform for dialogue in the city.
Meanwhile, an approved rally in the eastern Kowloon area of Hong Kong again descended into a tense standoff between riot police and protesters. Hong Kong’s MTR Corp., which runs the city’s subway, had suspended service between several stops and closed subway stations in the Kwun Tong area where the protest was planned, leading to heated arguments between residents and staff at the stations.
By Saturday afternoon, protesters had dug in for another engagement with police and started to dismantle “smart lampposts” that have recently been installed in the city — a sign of growing concerns about technology that Hong Kong and Chinese authorities could potentially use for surveillance. The Hong Kong government, when introducing the lampposts, said they would be used to collect data on traffic, weather and air quality and would not be used for facial recognition or to collect personal information.
“Some violent protesters maliciously damaged lampposts on Sheung Yuet Road, Kwun Tong and vandalized Government properties, neglecting other road users’ safety,” the Hong Kong police said in a statement, adding that they deployed tear gas and “minimum force” to clear demonstrators tossing gasoline bombs and bricks.
The scenes marked a return of the kind of chaos that has gripped the city for a dozen weekends now, after large peaceful demonstrations over the previous weekend and again on Friday.
Beijing has been clear about its growing intolerance of the protests, and pressure is now extending to Hong Kong’s multinational corporations and its diplomatic corps.
On Saturday, Chinese police said they had released an employee of the British Consulate in Hong Kong who was detained in China as he was trying to make his way back from Shenzhen, the Chinese city that borders Hong Kong.
Simon Cheng, a 28-year-old trade and investment officer at the consulate, was detained for violating mainland Chinese law and had “confessed to his illegal acts,” the public security bureau in Luohu, Shenzhen said on its Weibo account, without providing further details.
In a statement, his family confirmed that Cheng had returned to Hong Kong and said he had “no external injury.”