HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s metro stations and roads re-opened on Monday, after a chaotic weekend that saw police fire water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who set fires and threw petrol bombs outside government offices and across central districts.
An anti-government protester uses a tennis racket to hit a tear gas canister during a clash with riot police in Hong Kong, China September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
The Chinese territory is on edge ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on Tuesday, with authorities eager to avoid scenes that could embarrass the central government in Beijing.
A huge clean-up was under way after roads, shops and buildings across the financial center were daubed in graffiti, windows in government buildings smashed and parts of pavements uprooted by protesters during the weekend’s demonstrations.
Some underground stations were vandalized and streets were littered with debris from roadblocks and the charred remains of fires.
Two prominent democracy activists, actor Gregory Wong and Ventus Lau, were arrested for their involvement in protests on Monday, according to a representative for the Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of previous mass protests.
Hong Kong police did not immediately confirm the arrests.
The city’s leader, Carrie Lam, the focus of the unrest, made a last-minute decision to mark the People’s Republic anniversary in Beijing. The embattled leader had sent out invitations “requesting the pleasure of your company” at a flag-raising ceremony and reception in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
Security was tight around the Convention Centre where the ceremony is due to take place, with roads closed and riot police on guard. A series of strikes are planned on Monday and multiple demonstrations are scheduled on Tuesday.
It was not clear whether Lam was summoned to Beijing due to the escalation in the violence on the weekend. The government said Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung would stand in for her at the anniversary ceremony.
The unrest over the weekend saw some of the worst and most widespread violence in more than three months of anti-government demonstrations in the Asian financial hub.
The weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the start of the “Umbrella” protests – a series of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 that failed to wrestle concessions from Beijing.
The latest clashes began mid-afternoon on Sunday and continued late into the night, as thousands of masked protesters roamed the streets, facing off against riot police amid plumes of tear gas and raging fires.
Protesters are angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city’s affairs despite a promise of autonomy when British rule ended in 1997.
The trigger for the protests was planned legislation, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, despite Hong Kong having its own much-respected independent judiciary.
The protests have since broadened into calls for universal suffrage.
Police said an officer fired a warning shot after they were “surrounded and attacked by a large group of violent protesters” on Sunday.
By early morning on Monday all MTR metro stations on the city’s main island were open as normal, however staff could be seen repairing damage and clearing debris from in and around the stations.
Workers at a Starbucks outlet targeted by protesters were shoveling broken glass into garbage bags and peeling anti-China posters off the walls.
Starbucks stores in Hong Kong are run by the Maxim’s Group, which has drawn the ire of protesters after Annie Wu, the daughter of the founder, criticized the protests during an appearance at the United Nations earlier this month.
Many restaurants and stores have had to repeatedly shut with the protests taking a growing toll on the city’s economy as it faces its first recession in a decade.
An Indonesian journalist was hit in the eye by a rubber bullet on Sunday and was hospitalized. The Indonesian Consulate in Hong Kong confirmed that one of its citizens had been injured.
Reporting by Angie Teo, Twinnie Siu, Donny Kwok and Jessie Pang; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Stephen Coates