Police use tear gas to disperse pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong as thousands mount a determined challenge to Beijing’s attempts to restrict free elections – in defiance of previous promises.
Protesters in Hong Kong were urged by student leaders to disperse over fears that police engaged in fierce clashes with thousands of demonstrators could start using rubber bullets to assert control.
Police fired tear gas and charged crowds with batons to move them away from government buildings which they had blockaded in protest against China’s clampdown on free elections, which goes against promises China made when Britain agreed to handover Hong Kong in 1997.
Last month Beijing rejected demands for people to freely choose the city’s next leader, prompting threats from activists to shut down government offices in what is being regarded as one of the most significant civil disturbances since Hong Kong was handed over.
China wants to impose a shortlist of candidates for election whose loyalties lie with Beijing.
Channel 4 News correspondent John Sparks and his team were in the thick of it, and were themselves sprayed with tear gas.
Protesters swarmed on Hong Kong’s Admiralty overnight and gathered at police barricades surrounding more demonstrators who had earlier launched what they called a “new era” of civil disobedience to pile pressure on Beijing.
Riot police, in lines five deep in some places used pepper spray against activists and shot tear gas into the air.
The crowds hurled abuse at police “cowards” as they fled several hundred yards, but they regrouped and by early evening on Sunday thousands of protesters throngerd streets leading to Hong Kong’s Central financial district.
Police used tear gas for the first time since they broke up protests by South Korean farmers against the World Trade Organisation in 2005.
A spokesperson for China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the central government fully supported Hong Kong’s handling of the situation “in accordance with the law”.
Communist Party leaders in Beijing are concerned that calls for democracy could spread to cities on the mainland, threatening their grip on power.
But the likes of protest seen in Hong Kong would not be tolerated on the mainland, where student protests in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square calling for democracy were crushed with a heavy death toll on 4 June 1989.