Hong Kong police fired pepper spray at protesters on Sunday, in an echo of the skirmishes that led to the 79-day pro-democracy Occupy Hong Kong movement of 2014.
Demonstrators had gathered to object to a decision by the Chinese Communist Party to interfere in a row over whether two pro-independence lawmakers should be allowed to take their seats in Legco, the city’s parliament.
“I’m furious. I’m so angry,” said Shirley Man, one of the demonstrators. “And I’m extremely worried about the future of Hong Kong. China is getting its hands in our internal affairs. It’s not the first time, but this time it’s ridiculous.”
Some 4,000 demonstrators gathered outside China’s central government liaison office in Hong Kong Island’s Sai Ying Pun district in the early evening. Traffic was stopped as demonstrators filled up several streets in the area.
Police in riot gear formed lines of defence behind metal fences, but angry demonstrators tried to push their way through and minor scuffles broke out as some hurled bottles at officers. At least one protestor was arrested, according to Reuters, while around 20 were hit with pepper spray, some protecting themselves with umbrellas – the symbol of the 2014 protests, which snowballed after young students were hit by teargas and pepper spray.
A ruling on Monday from the standing committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) is expected to effectively bar two recently elected lawmakers – Yau Wai-ching, 25, and Baggio Leung, 30 – from taking office.
The pair angered opponents when they pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and displayed a “Hong Kong is not China” banner during a swearing-in ceremony last month. Their oaths were not accepted and their right to re-take them is being challenged in the local courts by the Hong Kong government.
The NPC’s standing committee appears likely to pre-empt that process and has discussed taking matters into its own hands by invoking its power to interpret Hong Kong’s mini constitution, the Basic Law, to stop Leung and Yau from taking office. Local lawyers say this move effectively annuls the independence of the city’s judiciary.
Hong Kong was handed over by Britain to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal which guaranteed its rights and freedoms for 50 years.
Earlier yesterday, thousands marched on the city’s Central financial district. Organisers put the numbers at 13,000; police said 8,000 turned out. Around 4,000 then pushed on to the liaison office. Banners carried the words: “Chinese law interpretation tramples on Hong Kong people.”
(Additional reporting from Reuters)