Hong Kong police and protesters faced off today as authorities began trying to clear the streets of a few hundred who remained near the city government headquarters after massive demonstrations that stretched deep into the night before.
The police asked for cooperation in clearing the road but said the protesters could stay on the sidewalks. Protesters, many in masks and other gear to guard against possible use of tear gas, responded with chants, some kneeling in front of the officers. The move came after activists rejected an apology from the Chief Executive Carrie Lam for her handling of legislation that has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing.
Groups of police, most in normal uniforms not riot gear, sought to clear the roads of metal and plastic barricades to enable traffic to pass through. In some places, the protesters quickly moved to put them back to block traffic.
Hundreds of protesters were sitting or lying along a main road through downtown, but they were scattered over a relatively wide area.
Activists called on Hong Kong residents to boycott classes and work, though it was unclear how many might heed that call.
Nearly 2 million people turned out yesterday, according to estimates by protest organizers. Police said 338,000 were counted on the designated protest route in the “peak period” of the march.
A week earlier, 1 million people demonstrated to voice their concern over Hong Kong’s relations with mainland China in one of the toughest tests of the territory’s special status since Beijing took control in a 1997 handover.
The scenes were similar to those seen nearly five years earlier, when protesters camped for weeks in the streets to protest rules that prevented the direct election of the chief executive.
One of the activists arrested after those demonstrations, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, was due to be released from prison today. He served half of a two-month jail sentence for contempt.
After daybreak today, police announced that they want to clear the streets. Soon after, police lined up several officers deep and faced off against several hundred demonstrators on a street in central Hong Kong.