World

Shops trashed as HK cops, protesters clash

By AAP Newswire

Hong Kong police and protesters have exchanged tear gas and petrol bombs as an illegal anti-government march that attracted tens of thousands descended into chaos, with hundreds of shops trashed and Chinese banks and metro stations targeted.

After two weeks of relative calm, the major rally showed that the pro-democracy campaign has not lost support and that hardcore protesters will continue to clash with police.

Protesters threw petrol bombs at the Tsim Sha Tsui police station on Kowloon peninsula after police inside fired volleys of tear gas to disperse demonstrators on the street.

Other black-clad protesters erected fiery barriers on Nathan Road, a major retail strip in the Kowloon district, as scores of riot police, shields in front, marched towards them, while others fired tear gas.

Police used several water cannon trucks to disperse protesters, spraying jets of blue dye into the crowds and sending hundreds fleeing. Police have used the dye to identify protesters.

It was the heaviest use of water cannons by police and many people hit with the water developed coughs, suggesting an irritant may be mixed with the water.

As riot police advanced protesters fell back to their next barricade, unlike past rallies when they stood and clashed with police, throwing petrol bombs and bricks.

Along the march route, protesters trashed metro stations and hundreds of shops, throwing goods onto the streets. Several Chinese banks were targeted.

By nightfall protesters had set fire to numerous road barriers and trashed shops in several Kowloon districts, said police, who continued to engage in street by street skirmishes. Police detonated what they said was an explosive device surrounded by broken bricks and left in the middle of a street.

Hong Kong has been battered by months of often massive and violent protests over concerns that Beijing is tightening its grip on the city, the worst political crisis since Britain handed the city back to China in 1997.

The protests in the city also pose the biggest popular challenge to China's President Xi Jinping since he took power. Beijing has denied eroding Hong Kong's freedoms and Xi has vowed to crush any attempt to split China.

The unrest was sparked by a bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts. It has since widened into a pro-democracy movement.

Protesters have targeted Chinese banks and shops with links to mainland China, leaving mainland Chinese living in Hong Kong worried about their safety.