Protesters in Hong Kong trampled a Chinese flag, vandalised a subway station and set a fire across a wide street on Sunday as pro-democracy demonstrations took a violent turn once again.
The day’s action began peacefully as protesters filled a shopping mall in the Sha Tin district and made a large display of folded paper origami cranes.
Some put a Chinese flag on the floor and took turns running over it, before defacing it and throwing it into a river.
One group later attacked the Sha Tin subway station, which is connected to the mall. They jumped up to smash overhead surveillance cameras, used hammers to knock ticket sensors off gates and spray-painted and broke the screens of ticket machines, using umbrellas to shield their identities.
Riot police arrived following the attack and guarded the station after it was closed, with a metal grille pulled down to block entry.
Protesters then built a barricade across a street near the mall, piled what appeared to be brown palm fronds on top and set them on fire.
Police fired teargas as they tried to advance on the protesters, who had retreated before taking a position behind a wall of umbrellas held by those in the front.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, now in their fourth month, have often descended into violence late in the day and at night. A hard core of protesters say extreme actions are needed to get the government’s attention. On Saturday night, police used teargas and rubber rounds against protesters, who threw petrol bombs towards them and set fires in the streets.
Before making the origami cranes, protesters at the Sha Tin New Town Plaza mall chanted slogans and sang Glory to Hong Kong, a song that has become their anthem, backed by a small group playing on woodwind and brass instruments through their masks. Many lined the balustrades of the three higher floors overlooking the crowd gathered in the wide space below.
Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has agreed to withdraw the extradition bill that sparked the protests in June. But the anti-government protesters are pressing other demands, including fully democratic elections in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory and an independent investigation of complaints about police violence during earlier demonstrations.
Protesters say Beijing and Lam’s government are eroding the “high degree of autonomy” and western-style civil liberties promised to the former British colony when it was returned to China in 1997.
The unending protests are an embarrassment for China’s Communist party ahead of the 1 October celebrations of its 70th year in power. Hong Kong’s government has cancelled a firework display that day, citing concern for public safety.
Transit authorities closed two stations on the airport express train to guard against possible disruptions, but none had materialised by late Sunday afternoon.
The Hong Kong International Airport Authority said the train would operate between the airport and the terminus station in the city centre without making its usual stops in between. Some airport bus routes were also suspended.
Passengers were advised to leave sufficient time to reach the airport and people on the train were told via onboard announcements that it would make fewer stops than usual, with no mention of the protests. Orange tape blocked the turnstiles at the empty Kowloon station and police clutching riot helmets greeted arriving passengers at the Hong Kong terminus.