As violence between pro-democracy protestors and riot police escalated in Hong Kong over the weekend, China has stepped up its rhetoric warning that if the activists don’t step down they’ll be ‘crushed’.
Changing their tactic, protestors held a number of small gatherings in shopping malls across the city to evade police and cause maximum disturbance throughout the city.
The initially peaceful rallies broke out in chaotic scenes after midday with police in full riot gear chasing protesters through crowds of horrified lunchtime shoppers.
By late afternoon hardcore black-clad activists trashed shops and metro stations, and erected roadblocks around the city.
Police made numerous arrests and deployed tear gas to disperse protesters, saying they used “minimum force”.
Television footage showed shoppers screaming and some injured when police charged inside a mall.
On a state visit to Nepal on the same day, Chinese President Xi Jinping stepped up his rhetoric against the protestors, threatening to crush them.
“Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones. And any external forces backing such attempts at dividing China will be deemed by the Chinese people as pipe-dreaming,” he was quoted by state media.
The young protesters, many wearing face masks to hide their identity, were often supported by shoppers.
In one mall a group of riot police, shields out front and pepper spray canisters in hand, were forced to retreat backwards by chanting shoppers until they were outside of the mall.
In another incident, a group of 50 shoppers inside a mall faced off against riot police outside, chanting “Hong Kong police mafia”. The shoppers cheered when police drove off.
One dramatic video showed a masked protester high kicking a riot officer after he tried to grab another activist.
Hong Kong’s police, once praised as “Asia’s finest”, have been accused of using excessive force in dealing with protesters and have lost the confidence and respect of many Hong Kongers.
At the start of the month, police shot 18-year-old student, Tony Tsang, in the chest with live ammunition. He was taken to hospital but survived.
“Hong Kong used to be a prosperous city and now she has become a police state. Hong Kong is my home. We should protect her. We should resist,” said a 70-year-old who only gave his last name, Hui.
He was part of a group of 60- to 70-year-olds on Nathan Road, Kowloon, cheering the protesters, urging them to block the road and warning them when police were returning.
Protesters scaled the city’s Lion Rock peak and hoisted a large statue they called “Lady Liberty” early on Sunday to rally anti-government activists.
Hong Kong has been battered by four months of often massive and violent protests against what is seen as Beijing’s tightening grip on the Chinese-ruled city.
The protests started in opposition to a now-abandoned extradition bill but have widened into a pro-democracy movement and an outlet for anger at social inequality in the city, which boasts some of the world’s most expensive real estate.
The unrest has plunged the city into its worst crisis since Britain handed it back to China in 1997 and poses the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.