Hong Kong police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of people who rallied on Sunday to protest against Beijing’s plan to impose a new national security law on the semi-autonomous city.
In a return of the unrest that roiled Hong Kong last year, crowds thronged the Causeway Bay shopping area in defiance of curbs imposed to contain the coronavirus. Chants of “Hong Kong independence, the only way out” echoed through the streets.
To Communist Party leaders, calls for independence for the city are anathema and the proposed new security framework stresses Beijing’s intent “to prevent, stop and punish” such acts.
As dusk fell, police and demonstrators faced off in the nightlife district of Wan Chai.
The day’s events pose a new challenge to Beijing’s authority as it struggles to tame public opposition to its tightening grip over Hong Kong, a trade and business gateway for mainland China.
The security law has also worried financial markets and drawn a rebuke from foreign governments, human rights groups and some business lobbies.
“I am worried that after the implementation of the national security law, they will go after those being charged before and the police will be further out of control,” said Twinnie, 16, a secondary school student who declined to give her last name.
“I am afraid of being arrested but I still need to come out and protest for the future of Hong Kong.”
The demonstrations come amid concerns over the fate of the “one country, two systems” formula that has governed Hong Kong since the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. The arrangement guarantees the city broad freedoms not seen on the mainland, including a free press and independent judiciary.