HONG KONG — Fierce clashes between pro-democracy protesters and police broke out in multiple parts of Hong Kong on Tuesday in the most widespread violence challenging Chinese rule as its Communist Party celebrated its 70th year in power.
Local media reported that police fired live bullets in the Tsuen Wan area, injuring a protester. There was no immediate comment from police.
Riot police fired multiple volleys of tear gas in at least six locations and used water cannons in the business district in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory as protesters turned streets into battlefields to spoil the Oct. 1 anniversary of Communist rule.
A security clampdown in the city to thwart violence that would embarrass Chinese President Xi Jinping failed to deter the protests, including a massive march in the city center.
Organizers said at least 100,000 people marched along a broad city thoroughfare in defiance of a police ban, chanting anti-China slogans and some carrying Chinese flags defaced with a black cross. Police didn’t provide an estimate of the turnout.
“They are squeezing our necks so we don’t breathe the air of freedom,” said King Chan, a 57-year-old homemaker who came out to protest with her husband.
Many demonstrators tossed wads of fake “hell” bank notes usually used at funerals into the air. “The leaders who won’t listen to our voice, this is for them,” said marcher Ray Luk.
Thousands of people confronted police in multiple locations across the city, the largest number of simultaneous protests since the unrest began in early June over a now-shelved extradition bill that activists say was an example of how Hong Kong’s freedoms and citizen rights are being eroded.
The movement has since snowballed into an anti-Chinese campaign with demands for direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability.
The smell of stinging tear gas and smoke from street fires started by protesters engulfed the Wan Chai, Wong Tai Sin, Sha Tin, Tuen Mun, Tsuen Wan and Tsim Sha Tsui areas. Protesters hurled gasoline bombs, bricks and other objects at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas.
Protesters used umbrellas as shields and threw tear gas canisters back at police. Police said protesters used corrosive fluid in Tuen Mun, injuring officers and some reporters.
In Wong Tai Sin, a gasoline bomb that protesters hurled at police exploded near motorcycles parked along a pavement, creating a large blaze that was put out by firefighters. Some protesters placed an emergency water hose down a subway station to try to flood it.
A water cannon truck sprayed blue water, used to identify protesters, to disperse crowds from advancing to government offices in the city. Scores of police officers also stood guard near the Beijing’s liaison office as the battles continued across the territory.
“Today we are out to tell the Communist Party that Hong Kong people have nothing to celebrate,” said activist Lee Cheuk-yan as he led the downtown march. “We are mourning that in 70 years of Communist Party rule, the democratic rights of people in Hong Kong and China are being denied. We will continue to fight.”
Activists carried banners saying, “End dictatorial rule, return power to the people.”
Dressed in a black T-shirt and dark jeans, 40-year-old Bob Wong said his clothing expressed “mourning” over “the death of Hong Kong’s future.”
The popular LIHKG online chat forum used by protesters was inaccessible on cellphones, a move believed to have been made to prevent communication by protesters. More than two dozen subway stations and many shopping malls across the city were shut.
The protests contrasted with Beijing’s anniversary festivities marked with a colorful parade and display of new missile technology. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is in Beijing for the ceremony, smiled as a Hong Kong float passed by.
In the morning as the city’s government marked the anniversary with a solemn ceremony, police used pepper spray to break up a brief scuffle between Beijing supporters and a small group of pro-democracy protesters.
Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung told hundreds of guests at a reception that the city has become “unrecognizable” due to the violence.
Cheung said Beijing fully supports the “one country, two systems” framework that gives Hong Kong freedoms and rights not enjoyed on the mainland. The system was implemented when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.