(Bloomberg) — A Hong Kong police officer was slashed in the neck during a confrontation with protesters, as violent clashes continued following the most-destructive weekend since unrest began more than four months ago.
Demonstrators spread out in 18 districts on Sunday in scattered, pop-up protests to pressure the government to meet their remaining demands, including the right to choose and elect their own leaders. Police said the officer suffered a neck wound after being attacked with a “sharp-edged” object in a subway station, adding that authorities fired tear gas in several places to disperse crowds who were vandalizing shops and public facilities.
Overall the disruption wasn’t as bad as earlier this month, when the subway system was completely shut down due to widespread violence after leader Carrie Lam invoked emergency powers last used more than half a century ago to impose a ban face masks. Prior to this weekend, some activists had urged others to scale back the vandalism that has shut shops, banks and train stations over concerns it could sap support for the movement.
Several events later this week could add fuel to the protests: Lam is due to give her annual economic-policy address, and U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives may vote on a bill that would require annual reviews of Hong Kong’s special trading status and potentially sanction some Chinese officials. Protesters plan to hold a rally in support of the bill in Central starting at 7 p.m. on Monday.
“The protesters and the people in Hong Kong certainly would like to have more international attention, would like to secure international sympathy,” Joseph Cheng, a retired political science professor and pro-democracy activist, said Sunday. “The concern obviously is that violent activities may lose international support. There is a definite awareness.”
Protesters are also concerned that violence may give the government an excuse to delay local elections next month, particularly as demonstrators are still enjoying popular support. Lam’s approval rating has been stuck near record lows for months.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday appeared to endorse the notion that the protests were waning in a meeting in Washington with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. The two sides agreed to “phase one” of a trade deal that reduced tensions between the world’s biggest economies, even as thorny issues remain.
“We discussed Hong Kong and I think great progress has been made by China in Hong Kong,” Trump said. “And I’ve been watching and I actually told the vice premier it really has toned down a lot from the initial days of a number of months ago when I saw a lot of people, and I see far fewer now.”
The issue jumped into the forefront of debate in the U.S. over the past week after the general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team tweeted support for the anti-Beijing protesters. The tweet was quickly deleted, but it triggered a backlash from Chinese companies and fans, leading to an exhibition game on Thursday in Shanghai not being aired or streamed in China.
While he didn’t refer directly to Hong Kong, China President Xi Jinping told Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli that those attempting to split China will be crushed, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday. Xi said any external force backing the split of China will be considered as delusional by the Chinese people, the report said.
The ongoing unrest was sparked by the Hong Kong government’s plan to introduce now-withdrawn legislation that would’ve allowed extradition to mainland China. Protester demands have since broadened to include an independent commission of inquiry into police brutality and greater democracy. Lam’s use of the emergency law raised the ire of protesters and paralyzed large parts of the city.
About 100 restaurants have closed because of the unrest, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said in a blog post Sunday. Around 2,000 employees have been affected as a result of the closures, Chan said, citing the catering industry.
Since protests erupted on China’s National Day on Oct. 1, police have arrested about 500 people, including 77 for violating the mask ban, and fired almost 2,000 rounds of tear gas. Dozens of people have have been injured, including two teenage protesters who were shot during fights with police.
Lam has refused to rule out further emergency measures, or even requesting Chinese military intervention to halt the unrest. “If the situation becomes so bad, then no option should be ruled out, if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance,” she told reporters Tuesday.
–With assistance from Stanley James.
To contact the reporters on this story: Aaron Mc Nicholas in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org;Eric Lam in Hong Kong at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org, Daniel Ten Kate
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