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Clashes Erupt in Hong Kong After Dueling Demonstrations

HONG KONG — Antigovernment protesters clashed with the police and threw gasoline bombs in Hong Kong on Saturday, a fresh sign that political tensions are running high in the Chinese territory ahead of a sensitive political anniversary.

The clashes occurred after a pro-democracy march a few miles from Hong Kong’s border with the Chinese mainland, and on a day when government supporters had swept the streets in a symbolic repudiation of the three-month-old protest movement.

This was the 16th successive weekend of unrest in the semiautonomous territory, with less than two weeks remaining before Oct. 1, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China under the Communist Party. Beijing does not want anything to mar the holiday, but the Hong Kong protesters seem determined to do just that.

The first event on Saturday was a citywide “cleanup” led by Junius Ho, a pro-Beijing lawmaker who is among the government’s most vocal defenders. He visited several districts of Hong Kong holding a broom and a dust pan, and theatrically tidied the sidewalks as television cameras rolled.

“National Day is almost here, plus it’s the 70th anniversary this year, so we want to give Hong Kong a clean face,” said Innes Tang, 55, a volunteer who joined one of the cleanup events.

Mr. Ho has been regarded with particular scorn by protesters since July 21, when a group of men wearing white T-shirts attacked protesters with sticks and metal bars in the Yuen Long subway station in northwestern Hong Kong. Mr. Ho was seen shaking hands with men in similar T-shirts in the area on the same night. He later denied any connection.

This past week, Mr. Ho called on his supporters to strip the so-called Lennon Walls of pro-democracy messages that have appeared across Hong Kong this summer, and which echo street murals that antigovernment protesters erected in 1980s Prague. He later asked them to leave the walls alone, out of a fear that stripping them could spur clashes with protesters.

But some government supporters stripped Lennon Walls on Saturday anyway — including in the Yuen Long district, where police officers in riot gear stood guard to protect them. And Mr. Ho said that while he did not wish to see clashes, he believed that the messages on the walls had “created a foul atmosphere.”

“We want to arouse positive feelings by cleaning up Hong Kong,” he said at a cleanup event in Tuen Mun, about six miles from Yuen Long.

As the cleanups tapered off, thousands of antigovernment protesters were beginning a police-approved march from a park in Tuen Mun. It was designed in part to demand more regulation of buskers in the park known as “singing aunties,” middle-aged women who sing pop songs through loudspeakers in Mandarin, the primary form of Chinese spoken in the mainland.

The antipathy toward those women reflects a widespread fear of the growing influence of mainland Chinese in Hong Kong, a former British colony that was handed back to Beijing’s control in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” arrangement that guaranteed it a high degree of autonomy for a half century.

A protester in the park, Phoenix Leung, 30, said the Tuen Mun march was part of a broader struggle for freedoms in the territory.

“The government wouldn’t do anything about this, and it’s up to us to defend the rights we’re supposed to have,” said Ms. Leung, who works in a hospital. “The parks are for our leisure, not for their private activities or to dance and collect money; it’s become like a pornographic venue.”

The Hong Kong protests began in June in opposition to contentious legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where the courts are controlled by the Communist Party. The Hong Kong government has since promised to withdraw the bill, but the protests have continued anyway, driven by demands for universal suffrage, greater police accountability and other significant political reforms.

By late Saturday afternoon in Tuen Mun, a few protesters had set a Chinese flag on fire. Previous flag-burnings this summer have angered government supporters in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland.

Other protesters stormed onto the tracks of a nearby train station, breaking security cameras and glass-encased signs with metal poles. The station had been shut beforehand by the city’s subway operator in anticipation of demonstrations.

Police officers in riot gear initially watched the mayhem from a distance. But by 5 p.m. — in scenes that have become common this summer in a normally peaceful city — they were firing tear gas at protesters and pinning some to the ground.

The protesters, meanwhile, were throwing bricks and gasoline bombs into the road to impede police charges, and setting fires in the streets.

As night fell, hundreds of protesters decamped to a shopping mall near the Yuen Long subway station for a sit-in. The authorities had closed the station earlier in the day.

One protester at the mall, Fanny Yeung, 38, said she and her family had spent more than an hour traveling there because of train closings. But she said it was worth it.

“This is a battle between justice and rule by terror,” she said. “We have to come out to say we will always stand on the side of justice.”

Source: NYT > World News

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