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Protests escalated in Hong Kong today. Kin Cheung/AP/Press Association Images

Tear gas and water cannons used against Hong Kong democracy protesters

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets again today in Hong Kong.

RIOT POLICE IN Hong Kong fired tear gas and water cannons at pro-democracy protesters hurling rocks and petrol bombs today, tipping the city back into chaos after a brief pause in clashes. 

Tens of thousands of people defied authorities to march through the streets of the city in an unsanctioned rally today. 

The rally turned violent when small groups of hardcore activists – known within the movement as the “braves” – tried to attack the city’s main government complex.

Police fired repeated volleys of tear gas and deployed water cannon trucks after Molotov cocktails and rocks were thrown over security barriers surrounding the complex, which has become a frequent flashpoint in the ongoing protests.

The clashes ended a relative lull in recent days in the intensity of skirmishes between police and protesters.

Hong Kong has faced weeks of huge, sometimes violent rallies calling for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.

The movement is the biggest challenge to China’s rule since the city was handed back by Britain in 1997 and shows no sign of ending, with local leaders and Beijing taking a hard line.

Under a deal signed with Britain ahead of the handover, Hong Kong is allowed to keep its unique freedoms for 50 years.

Democracy activists have accused Beijing of reneging on those promises by tightening political control over the semi-autonomous territory.

UK consulate protest

Earlier today, protesters rallied outside Britain’s consulate in Hong Kong, demanding London do more to protect its former colonial subjects and ramp up pressure on Beijing.

Hundreds of demonstrators sang “God Save the Queen” and “Rule Britannia” outside the consulate, waving the Union Jack as well as Hong Kong’s colonial-era flags.

Many of the protest signs accused Britain of not doing enough to confront Beijing over its tightening grip on the semi-autonomous city.

hong-kong-protests Protesters hold placards and British flags during a peaceful demonstration outside the British Consulate in Hong Kong. Vincent Yu / AP/Press Association Images Vincent Yu / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

“Sino-British Joint Declaration is VOID,” one read, referencing the 1984 agreement that paved the way for the city’s handover, a deal that Hong Kong residents were given no say over.

“So far, I’m quite disappointed by the fact that the UK hasn’t done anything to support us,” protester Alex Leung, a recent graduate, told AFP.

Many called for anyone who wants to leave the city to be granted citizenship in Britain or other Commonwealth nations.

Some Hong Kongers were given British National Overseas passports before the handover, a document that allows holders easy travel to the UK but grants no working or residency rights.

“At least with the full citizenship, they can protect Hong Kong people from the Chinese government,” protester Anthony Chau, who holds a British National Overseas passport, told AFP.

Earlier this week, some 130 UK parliamentarians signed a joint letter calling for Britain and Commonwealth countries to come up with an “insurance policy” for Hong Kongers to resettle overseas should they wish to.

The protests were initially sparked by plans to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland, a move that promoted million to hit the streets.

As Beijing and local city leaders doubled down, the movement rapidly snowballed into a much wider anti-government movement.

The extradition bill has now been withdrawn. 

But the pro-democracy movement has vowed to continue until key demands are met, including an inquiry into the police, an amnesty for those arrested and universal suffrage.

“We have a right to go to protests, to the streets, and we have to voice our demands to the government,” said a secondary school student at Sunday’s unsanctioned rally who gave his name as Alvin.

Both Lam and Beijing have shown little desire for making any further concessions. 

Lam has said she is willing to hold a dialogue but protesters must abandon violence first.

But the movement is leaderless – a response to authorities prosecuting high-profile democracy figures from previous protests – making it difficult for Lam to know who to negotiate with.

Online message boards have filled with plans for new rallies and strikes in the coming weeks, fueled by two key anniversaries. 

Twenty-eighth September is the fifth anniversary of the start of the failed pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests while 1 October is the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

© AFP 2019 

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