Hong Kong saw more huge protests over the weekend, many of them explicitly directed at the new emergency law forbidding demonstrators to wear masks. Police fired at protesters in the Mong Kok district, a frequent scene of large protests.
A statement from the police on Saturday night said protesters “behaved in a disorderly manner, threw stones at the station and aimed laser beams at police officers. Such acts threatened the safety of members of the public and police officers.”
Police officials claimed they used “the minimum force necessary” to contain the situation. It was not clear from weekend reports if the shots heard in the district were lethal or non-lethal weapons.
Hong Kong’s MTR rail system reported several of its stations were vandalized over the weekend, with arson reported in two cases. MTR stations have been damaged on numerous occasions because the protesters feel the rail system is colluding with Hong Kong’s pro-China government against them.
Boycotts and vandalism have been directed against other businesses seen as supporting the Chinese Communist regime against the protest movement, notably including the Starbucks coffee chain, whose stores in Hong Kong are operated by a restaurant corporation owned by a family that has made statements supporting the police and denouncing protesters as radicals.
A more restrained demonstration against police violence is being staged by elderly demonstrators who have announced they will sit outside police headquarters in the Wan Chai district for two days. The older protesters say they are especially concerned about the use of force against young people.
Police officials said on Monday that violence at the protests has escalated to a “life-threatening level” because on Sunday night a small improvised explosive was detonated near a police car and a police officer was slashed in the neck with a knife.
“They are not protesters, they are rioters and criminals. Whatever cause they are fighting for it never justifies such violence,” said deputy police commissioner Tang Ping-keung.
The Associated Press noted a shift in tactics by the more aggressive protesters over the weekend as they began working in small, fast-moving groups that were harder for the police to arrest. The knife attack reported on Sunday night was the work of one such group, while another was videotaped knocking a riot police officer to the ground, beating him, and attempting to take his gun.
The AP thought that despite the spirited acts of defiance against the mask ban, it actually seems to have “cooled the ardor of some demonstrators and whittled down protest numbers” as the popular uprising enters its fifth month.
“It’s no longer possible to get a hundred thousand people to come out,” one of the senior demonstrators conceded. He said the new strategy is to “keep the hunt dogs running everywhere, getting crazier and crazier, without catching the prey,” by which he meant the police.
The protest movement was able to summon enough manpower to haul the “Lady Liberty” statue – a 12-foot, 180-pound depiction of a female protester wearing a gas mask brandishing an umbrella, a symbol of democracy in Hong Kong, and a flag reading “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution Of Our Times” – to the top of the highly visible Lion Rock overlooking the city.
“We had a team of 16 climbing professionals carrying her in two main pieces all the way to the summit while another 16 members carried equipment and supplies,” the creator of the statue said proudly.
The climbing team said Lion Rock, long viewed as symbolic of Hong Kong’s libertarian spirit and often festooned with protest banners, would be a fitting “final resting place” for the Lady Liberty statue, which until now has been trucked around to various locations across the city during protest rallies.