Hong Kong riot police have fired volleys of tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters, many wearing now-banned face masks, who converged on the Kowloon harbourfront to denounce perceived police brutality over months of unrest.
Police arrived early on Sunday, warning protesters to leave the tourist district of Tsim Sha Tsui forming cordons and blocking traffic on the key artery of Nathan Road.
The number of protesters was growing, streaming down Nathan Road to the water’s edge, facing the dramatic skyline of Hong Kong Island opposite.
Many fled after the tear gas and pepper spray were fired.
Police detained some protesters with many yelling profanities.
The crowds at the waterfront had largely dispersed after a couple of hours and some were heading north up Nathan Road, where many luxury brand shops had closed their shutters.
“The protestors are once again demanding five things… including more freedom, more democracy and an inquiry into police brutality,” said Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from Hong Kong.
“Protesters say the main reason they were here was because they want an inquiry into how police have been handling these protests so far.”
Pro-democracy activists have in recent weeks attacked police with petrol bombs and rocks, with one officer having his neck slashed.
The semi-autonomous Chinese territory has been gripped by protests for nearly five months, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets to denounce what they see as Beijing’s creeping interference in Hong Kong. China has denied these claims.
‘It’s Hong Kong, not China’
The rallying cry of the protesters was also for the protection of “Muslims, journalists and the people”.
Last Sunday, a police water cannon fired bursts of blue-dyed water at a small group of people outside a mosque during protests in Tsim Sha Tsui, drawing criticism from some in the Muslim community.
Billy, 26, a salesman, who did not want to give his full name, said he turned out on Sunday because he was angry at the spraying of the mosque.
“Hong Kong people, regardless of our religion … we come here to say no to our totalitarian government,” he told Reuters news agency, adding he wanted to protest peacefully.
“I have a little bit of fear … because our police sometimes are uncontrollable and they threaten the safety of our people.”
Cindy Chu, 65, a retired nurse, said she was there to support journalists. When asked if she really wanted to give her full name, she told Reuters: “I am not afraid. If Hong Kong people are afraid of things like that, then the ending is not good.”
Hong Kong police have faced criticism for responding with heavy-handed tactics including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and water cannon to subdue protesters.
Police dogs have been seen at protest clearance operations without any protective gear while riot officers wearing respirator masks fired tear gas.
The movement’s supporters say exposing dogs to tear gas amounts to animal cruelty and threatens their lives.
Police deny accusations of brutality, saying they have shown restraint in life-threatening situations.