Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Hong Kong: British consulate worker freed as police tear gas protesters

Protests descended into violence on Saturday a departure from last week's calm

Protests in Hong Kong showed no sign of abating on Saturday as the release of a British consulate worker by Chinese authorities appeared to add fuel to the burning anger of Hong Kongers on the streets.

Simon Cheng was detained for 15 days for violating public security management regulations, police in Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong, said on their Twitter-like Weibo account.

Police said Mr Cheng was released as scheduled on Saturday and that his legal rights and interests had been observed. They also said Mr Cheng had confessed to accusations against him, a commonly used comment by Chinese police, even though Mr Cheng was not given a chance to defend himself in court.

Mr Cheng’s family confirmed he had returned to Hong Kong in a post on his Facebook page.

"We welcome the release of Simon Cheng and are delighted that he can be reunited with his family. We will continue to provide support to them," a spokesman for Britain's foreign ministry said.

"Simon and his family have requested privacy and we would be grateful if this is respected."

Some protesters in recent days had demanded Mr Cheng be released as relations between demonstrators and police grew increasingly fractious.

Riot police fired tear gas and baton-charged protesters who retaliated with a barrage of stones, bottles and bamboo poles in a working-class district on Saturday.

Thousands of demonstrators, many wearing hard hats and gas masks, marched through the industrial Kwun Tong area, where they were blocked by dozens of officers with shields and batons outside a police station.

Frontline protesters pulled together a barricade of traffic barriers and bamboo construction poles, spray-painting walls with insults directed at the police.

As the afternoon wore on some fired stones from slingshots, prompting a charge from police wielding batons and pepper spray.

Tears gas swept across the road as protesters retreated, leaving a trail of broken bottles and at least one small fire in their wake.

Tension flickered throughout Saturday's march, where dozens of the most radical demonstrators known as "braves" had gathered, battle-hardened by a three-month street campaign.

"I understand being peaceful will not solve the problem," 19-year-old student protester Ryan told AFP, giving one name.

"The government won't respond to peaceful protest. If I am arrested it is because I come out to speak for justice."

Saturday’s violence was a departure from last Sunday’s peaceful march, which saw hundreds of thousands of black-clad protestors demonstrate in the city’s Victoria Park despite pouring rain.

Protests started against a proposed law that would have allowed extradition to China, but have bled into wider calls for democracy and police accountability in the semi-autonomous city.

On Saturday, Hong Kong’s beleaguered Chief Executive Carrie Lam called on protesters to break the deadlock gripping the city, after she held a meeting with former officials and other prominent people to find a way out of the impasse.

Around 30 people were invited to the gathering at Government House on Saturday, including ex-transport chief Anthony Cheung and Cardinal John Tong, the former bishop of Hong Kong, RTHK reported. Ms Lam said in a Facebook post that the meeting was not a “dialogue platform” but a gathering to share ideas on how to build one.

Updated: August 24, 2019 03:03 PM

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