HONG KONG — Protesters filled public parks and squares in several Hong Kong districts on Monday in a general strike staged on a weekday to draw more attention to their demands, including that the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s leader resign.
Police again deployed tear gas in the Wong Tai Sin district, the scene of clashes with protesters over the weekend.
At the legislative complex, other protesters spray-painted “Dog officials” and pasted yellow banners on the gates opposing an extradition bill that originally sparked more than two months of demonstrations. They painted “Revolution of our Times” on one side of the building’s exterior.
Police responded with tear gas after protesters took over a major road outside the main government office, threw eggs and bricks at the building and punctured large water-filled barriers set up by police to keep them away.
The general strike led to more than 200 flight cancellations at the city’s airport and protesters disrupted subway service during the morning commute. Nevertheless, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam maintained that she has no plans to resign in the face of the turbulent pro-democracy movement.
Hong Kong is on “the verge of a very dangerous situation,” Lam said. She said current protests were operating with “ulterior motives” that threaten Hong Kong’s prosperity and security.
“I don’t think at this point in time, resignation of myself or some of my colleagues would provide a better solution,” Lam said at a news conference.
The strike is the latest development in a summer of fiery demonstrations that began in early June against proposed extradition legislation that would have allowed some criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China to stand trial. While the government has since suspended the bill, protesters have pressed on with broader calls for it to be scrapped entirely, along with democratic reforms
including the dissolution of the current legislature and an investigation into alleged police brutality.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the framework of “one country, two systems,” which promised the city certain democratic freedoms not afforded to the mainland. But some Hong Kong residents feel that Beijing has been increasingly encroaching on their freedoms.
Protesters snarled the Monday morning rush hour by blocking train and platform doors, preventing subway and commuter rail trains from leaving their stations.
More than 200 flights out of Hong Kong have been canceled after a large number of airport employees called in sick in apparent participation in the general strike, Hong Kong media reported. Public broadcaster RTHK said Cathay Pacific and other domestic carriers such as Hong Kong Airlines were the most affected. Airport express train service was also suspended.
“Too much. Why do they have to create trouble for people not involved in their cause?” said 52-year-old John Chan, whose flight to Singapore was canceled. “Hong Kong is sinking. The government, police and protest people have to stop fighting and give us a break.”
The citywide strike and demonstrations in seven Hong Kong districts followed a weekend of street clashes between protesters and riot police.
At a daily briefing, a police spokeswoman said 420 protesters have been arrested since June 9, the date of a massive march that drew more than 1 million people and ushered in the protest movement. Those held, who range in age from 14 to 76, face charges including rioting, unlawful assembly, possessing offensive weapons and assaulting officers and obstructing police operations, the spokeswoman, Yolanda Yu Hoi-kwan, told reporters.
Yu said during the protests, police have expended 1,000 tear gas grenades and fired more than 300 non-lethal bullets. She said 139 officers had been injured in clashes, with two still hospitalized with fractures.
She said violence has been escalating, with protesters using gasoline bombs and fire, including sending a trolley full of burning trash hurtling toward officers.
“We love Hong Kong and hope to restore public order. If we continue to tolerate and turn a blind eye to lawless behavior, the consequences will be undesirable for our citizens,” Yu said.
Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung of the Police Public Relations Branch said the police are fully supported by the government and there will be no need to deploy China’s military to help maintain order. He said Lam and other officials from her administration have stated the same on multiple occasions.
“I personally believe there won’t be any chance to deploy the (People’s Liberation Army),” Kong told reporters at a daily press briefing.
Speculation of PLA intervention was fueled in part by a slick publicity video it released last week showing troops firing tear gas and dealing with a mock street demonstration.
Meanwhile, Kong said he doesn’t feel the police are being made scapegoats over the violence and were fulfilling their mandate to protect the community and maintain law and order.
The Communist Party-led central government in Beijing has condemned what they call violent and radical protesters who have vandalized the Chinese national flag on the sidelines of major rallies.
China has accused unnamed “foreign forces” of inflaming the demonstrations out of a desire to contain the country’s development.
On Chinese state broadcaster CCTV’s daily noon news report, an anchor read aloud from a strongly worded editorial titled “The Chaos in Hong Kong Must Not Continue.”
“We warn those maniacs and thugs who intend to continue to mess up Hong Kong by holding to a fantasy that you must pay a price for your savage revenge,” the editorial said. “So please become aware of your errors, turn back from your incorrect path and set down the butcher’s knives.”
Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker, said Beijing should consider engaging with protesters through Lam.
“We hope the learned people in Beijing would at least deliver some sincerity by suggesting via Carrie Lam, ‘OK, you guys want democracy, perhaps we can talk,'” Mo said. “We can talk — just three words. And maybe that can help appease society.”