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One Hong Kong District Becomes a Combat Zone
In the northern Sha Tin suburb, confrontations erupted as marchers built barricades and hurled projectiles at police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets
John Lyons and
Chun Han Wong
HONG KONG—They started streaming toward confrontation on a sunny Tuesday afternoon.
A parade of young and middle-class Hong Kongers, dressed in black, couples walking hand in hand, moved along a placid river in what looked more like a procession for peace than a march toward battles where some would pick up Molotov cocktails and bricks and hurl them at police.
Yet by midafternoon, the northern suburban district of Sha Tin had become a combat zone, one that brought into sharp relief the conflict between a city seething against what protesters see as increasingly violent police tactics and the isolated and outnumbered officers tasked with maintaining order.
A police communique the night before struck an ominous note about the mood among officers. It said investigators believed some violent, hard-core protesters were plotting to kill police, perhaps by using disguises to get in close. Protesters haven’t been known to ever use such tactics, but the statement was a signal the police would be on edge.
On the other side of the territory, a police officer under attack shot an 18-year-old protester in the chest. Police said they fired real bullets six times on Tuesday. In recent weeks, officers have fired warning shots when outnumbered or under attack.
The march in Sha Tin, the city’s biggest residential district, started from an iconic temple dedicated to an ancient Chinese general and pulled in several thousand people by the time it reached the interconnected residential towers and shopping malls at its urban center.
Protesters dug up bricks to use as projectiles, erected triangular barriers from roadway fences and debated strategy. One young man suggested building defensive lines in front of a shopping mall.
Hong Kong Protests Intensify
Hong Kong demonstrations have grown in size and violence, and the police have responded with heavy force.
June 9, 2019
An estimated one million people, according to organizers, march in the first major protest of the summer.PHOTO: PAUL YEUNG/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Protesters demonstrate outside the Legislative Council complex. Police respond with tear gas, beanbag rounds and rubber bullets. PHOTO: KIN CHEUNG/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam suspends the extradition bill.PHOTO: HECTOR RETAMAL/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Nearly two million people march, according to organizers, in the summer’s biggest protest.PHOTO: VINCENT YU/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Mrs. Lam apologizes for her attempt to rush through the bill, which she says her government is unlikely to resurrect.PHOTO: ANTHONY WALLACE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
As many as 165,000 supporters of the police and the extradition bill showed up in a rally in Hong Kong.PHOTO: TYRONE SIU/REUTERS
More than half a million people march, according to organizers, while other protesters break into and deface the Legislative Council building.PHOTO: VINCENT YU/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Police announce arrests, including one from the Legislative Council break-in. PHOTO: EDUARDO LEAL/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Protesters take the message to mainland Chinese visitors at the high-speed train station in Hong Kong's West Kowloon district.PHOTO: JUSTIN CHIN/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Mrs. Lam says the bill is dead.PHOTO: TYRONE SIU/REUTERS
After protesters stage a Sunday march in Sha Tin, the city’s most populous district, police make arrests inside a shopping mall popular with local residents and mainland Chinese visitors.PHOTO: JUSTIN CHIN/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Pro-government demonstrations draw more than 300,000, organizers say.PHOTO: VERNON YUEN/NURPHOTO/ZUMA PRESS
Protests attended by nearly half a million people, according to organizers, descend into violence. That evening, a group of men attacks returning protesters and commuters at the Yuen Long subway station.PHOTO: LAM CHEUK TING/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Protesters take their cause to the airport for the first time.PHOTO: JUSTIN CHIN/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Clashes between protesters and police happen earlier in the day as officers use tear gas to disperse protesters on back-to-back days over the weekend. PHOTO: EDGAR SU/REUTERS
During a protest in the city's Causeway Bay district, demonstrators block the entrance to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel.PHOTO: JUSTIN CHIN/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Mrs. Lam takes a hard-line stance at a press conference and vows to deal with the radical protesters with law and order.PHOTO: JEROME FAVRE/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK
During violent clashes with protesters, police fire tear gas and rubber bullets in metro stations. They also arrest dozens of protestors.PHOTO: AIDAN MARZO/SOPA IMAGES/ZUMA PRESS
After three days of relatively calm demonstrations at Hong Kong International Airport, protesters become disruptive and force the cancellation of hundreds of flights. The following day at the airport, protesters forcibly detain two Chinese travellers and engage in fierce fights with police.PHOTO: VINCENT THIAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Chinese military personnel gather across the border in Shenzhen, prompting a tweet from President Trump.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
After weeks of violent confrontation, an estimated 1.7 million people turn out in the rain to hold the largest peaceful rally in weeks to keep pressure on the government.PHOTO: TYRONE SIU/REUTERS
Violence erupts again between police and protesters, who topple smart lampposts. Police fire a warning shot in a separate clash.PHOTO: ANTHONY WALLACE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Tens of thousands take to the streets in defiance of a ban on antigovernment demonstrations. Protesters start a bonfire outside police headquarters after water cannons spray blue dye at demonstrators and police fire volleys of tear gas to stop a siege on Hong Kong’s government headquarters. PHOTO: BILLY H.C. KWOK/GETTY IMAGES)
Students in high schools and universities kick off the new academic year by boycotting classes, forming human chains and rallying. PHOTO: KYLE LAM/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Chief Executive Carrie Lam says she will formally withdraw the extradition bill, agreeing to one of the five demands made by protesters.PHOTO: PHILIP FONG/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Tens of thousands of protesters march to the U.S. consulate to urge the passing of a bill that would put Hong Kong’s status as a separate trading partner under more scrutiny. PHOTO: KYLE LAM/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Carrie Lam held her first public dialogue session with 130 citizens. The majority of speakers call for an inquiry into allegations of police brutality. PHOTO: XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS
The fiercest clashes in weeks break out across several districts after an anti-totalitarianism march descends quickly into running battles with police.PHOTO: VINCENT YU/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Protests take place across the city to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, with a mass march on Hong Kong Island and violent clashes in several districts across the harbor. PHOTO: PHILIP FONG/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
“Does anyone have any better ideas?” he yelled. After a vote, some in the group decided to build a perimeter and prepare for a fight.
Hundreds of protesters also took over the above-ground maze of balconies and overpasses, gaining a height advantage. They dragged bricks to the scene in public garbage bins and lined them up alongside full cans of Coke and beer on the parapet. Asked if he planned to throw the cans at the police, one protester responded with a grin, “Maybe.” Behind him, a group partly shielded from view prepared dozens of Molotov cocktails.
A group of police officers in riot gear arrived to loud jeers of “Black police, may your entire families die,” and “Five demands, not one less,” a reference to protesters’ call for government concessions including an independent inquiry into police violence.
The officers, numbering about a hundred, lined up across an intersection. Full cans rained down in their direction. Some protesters hurled bricks and Molotov cocktails.
In response, police fired volleys of tear gas and less-lethal ammunition like rubber projectiles at protesters on the upper floors. The pop of shots fired at times became a staccato.
Some tear-gas shells landed near residential apartments, prompting a group of middle-aged men and women watching from the sidelines to hurl abuse.
“You guys are crazy!” one man shouted at the police. A woman chimed in: “There are a lot of people living up there!”
Before dusk, another group of protesters advanced toward the scene across a nearby bridge, blocked only by a group of around 40 police officers left to guard it.
A commander on the bridge directed his team’s shooting, alternating between tear gas and rubber rounds. Calling forward a pair of officers, he ordered: “Fire!” Two dull pops rang out, and streams of white smoke streaked toward the advancing crowd.
For a few tense minutes, it appeared the protesters, advancing under the cover of umbrellas and traffic barriers, would overrun the small force. Then reinforcements arrived. A large number of elite riot-police officers clad in dark blue ran to the scene and led a baton charge across the bridge. The protesters swiftly retreated, regrouping about a block away.
Police halted at the end of the bridge and took stock. A commander of the team of reinforcements stood on a culvert and shouted to his squad in English: “The blue team came, and they ran away.” He did a little dance.
As daylight waned, police regrouped to clear the crowds in the town center.
Officers fired repeated volleys of tear gas and rubber projectiles as they charged at protesters occupying streets between residential high-rises, prompting many to flee in a hectic rush. One squad of officers dashed toward the upper-floor walkways. Sounds of firing, shattering glass and antipolice invective rang out.
They left empty streets behind them. Strips of paper money, labeled “hell banknote” and typically burned at funerals, lay strewn across the roads along with metal fencing, bricks, broken umbrellas and spent tear-gas shells. A dropped cellphone started ringing, the music echoing down the deserted street.
The sun started to set, and a helicopter whirred overhead.
Moments later, a series of dull pops echoed through the neighborhood. Tear gas wafted through the air. Another street battle had begun.
Corrections & Amplifications Hong Kong police said they fired real bullets six times during protests on Tuesday, but none in the Sha Tin district. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated they fired two bullets in Sha Tin. (10/1/19)