At least 200 people were arrested in Hong Kong as protesters blocked roads, vandalized public facilities and set alight exits of subway stations on Saturday.
Police fired multiple rounds of tear gas and deployed a water cannon on black-clad demonstrators who built barricades across busy streets, including a highway, and threw flaming objects in Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island. MTR Corp., operator of the city’s rail system, suspended services at the main Central station after arsonists set alight at least two subway-stop exits.
Petrol bombs were also thrown outside Cheung Kong Center -- the nerve center of billionaire Li Ka-Shing’s business empire whose tenants include Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bank of America Corp., according to the South China Morning Post. The offices of China’s official Xinhua News Agency were vandalized.
People were arrested for offenses including unlawful assembly, possession of an offensive weapon, criminal damage and using facial covering while at an unlawful assembly, police said. Four men and a woman were held for possession of an offensive weapon and officers seized weapons including 188 petrol bombs, several extendable batons and pepper sprays, according to the police.
Hong Kong’s economy entered a recession in the third quarter as almost five months of increasingly violent protests hurt local businesses. Tourism has plummeted across the board, especially arrivals from mainland China, which accounts for almost 80% of all visitors to the city.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Saturday the recent unrest has “inevitably affected the confidence of local and overseas sectors" toward the city, but its “unique edge" is unharmed under the “One Country, Two Systems" principle.
“Hong Kong can surely start anew through strict law enforcement, sincere conversation and return to calm," Lam told a conference in Nanjing, China. Later in the week she plans to attend the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, where President Xi Jinping will give a keynote speech, and then she’ll head to Beijing for a meeting about the Greater Bay Area before returning to Hong Kong on Thursday.
Earlier on Saturday, thousands gathered in the vicinity of Victoria Park as pro-democracy candidates for upcoming district council elections held campaign events. Tension built up as police repeatedly issued warnings to protesters that they were participating in an unauthorized assembly and violating a ban on face masks.
Victoria Park, near the shopping district of Causeway Bay, was the venue for several peaceful rallies in recent months, and hosts the city’s annual June 4th commemoration of China’s 1989 crackdown on democracy activists in Tiananmen Square.
Saturday’s demonstrations follows a chaotic Halloween of revelry and protests, where tear gas rounds were fired to disperse costume-wearing demonstrators.
Hong Kong’s High Court on Thursday granted the local government its second injunction in a week limiting online speech -- the latest was a 15-day ban on internet posts that incite violence or property damage.
As protests rage in Hong Kong against China’s increased grip over the city, Beijing signaled it would intervene more in everything from education to the selection of the city’s top leader.
The Chinese government on Friday outlined a series of broad, but vaguely worded commitments to address some of Hong Kong’s most divisive issues, including a pledge to “improve the system and mechanisms for appointing and removing the chief executive and other principle officials."
Communist Party leaders also vowed stronger measures to teach “patriotism" to young people and public officials, according to a communique released by the Central Committee after their first meeting in more than 20 months.
“There may be more control of freedom of speech after the plenary session," a 20-year-old protester who would only be identified as Cheung, said Saturday.