Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents attended separate marches through the streets of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory on Sunday despite not having clear protest routes.
The rallies come a day after police used tear gas during clashes with protesters at a town near the border with mainland China.
Sunday’s main rally was initially scheduled to move through Sheung Wan, a historic district popular with tourists and where riot police previously used tear gas against protesters.
But authorities rejected the route, prompting people to march in opposite directions. Some headed towards a major shopping district, where they set up barricades to block off the area, and others towards the police headquarters.
The message of today’s protest march seems pretty clear: “We own the streets. We are legion. And we are not going anywhere.” pic.twitter.com/wDrLf2iNdD
— Antony Dapiran (@antd) July 28, 2019
The South China Morning Post newspaper described chaotic scenes with many demonstrators unsure of where to go.
Many of the black-shirted protesters shouted slogans “Reclaim Hong Kong” and “Down with the evil bill,” referencing a recently shelved proposal that would have allowed the extradition of suspects to mainland China for trial.
The rallies, which first erupted last month in opposition to the bill, have brought millions of residents onto the streets. They have since morphed into a much broader political campaign for democratic reforms in the former British colony amid concerns that China is tightening its grip on power.
The unrest is one of the biggest political crises in Hong Kong’s modern history and has become a major headache for the territory’s pro-Beijing leadership.
Anti-triad rally turns ugly
On Saturday, another unsanctioned march descended into chaos as police fired several rounds of tear gas after tense standoffs with protestors, some of whom threw projectiles.
Eleven people were arrested and at least two dozen injured.
The so-called anti-triad rally was held in a town in the New Territories, close to the border with the mainland, to protest against suspected pro-government gangs that beat up pro-democracy demonstrators there last weekend.
Those attacks further raised tensions between the government and protesters, some of whom claim the police turned a blind eye to the violence.
Police face more censure
Hong Kong police have also faced criticism for what human rights group Amnesty International called a “heavy-handed” response during Saturday’s rally, as well as their use of tear gas and rubber bullets during previous protests.
Despite widespread support, the protests have concerned Hong Kong residents who fear they are damaging the city’s economy and global reputation.
Britain handed Hong Kong to China in 1997 as part of an agreement that included Beijing’s pledge to respect the territory’s semi-autonomous status until 2047.