Hong Kong police fire water cannon and tear gas as protesters defy rally ban with petrol bombs

Hong Kong police fired blue-coloured water from water cannons and tear gas on Saturday in a standoff with protesters outside government headquarters.

While other protesters marched back and forth elsewhere in the city, a large crowd wearing helmets and gas masks gathered outside the city government building.

Some approached barriers that had been set up to keep protesters away and appeared to throw objects at the police on the other side. Others shone laser lights at the officers.

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Police fired tear gas from the other side of the barriers, then brought out a water cannon truck that fired regular water and then colored water at the protesters, staining them and nearby journalists and leaving blue puddles in the street.

Earlier, large crowds of protesters gathered in central Hong Kong as police readied for possible confrontations near the Chinese government’s main office and elsewhere in the semi-autonomous territory.

A march to mark the fifth anniversary of China’s decision against fully democratic elections in Hong Kong was not permitted by police, but protesters took to the streets anyway in the 13th straight weekend of demonstrations.

The mostly young, black-shirted protesters took over roads and major intersections in shopping districts as they rallied and marched.

Police erected additional barriers and brought out two water cannon trucks near the Chinese government office and deployed at various locations in riot gear.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said Hong Kong citizens would keep fighting for their rights and freedoms despite the arrests of several prominent activists and lawmakers in the past two days, including activist Joshua Wong.

The protests were sparked by a now-shelved extradition bill. Protesters are demanding its full withdrawal, democratic elections and an investigation into alleged police brutality in what have been pitched battles with hard-line demonstrators.

"I do believe the government deliberately arrested several leaders of the democratic camp to try to threaten Hong Kong people not to come out to fight against the evil law," Mr Lam said.

The protests have expanded into a wider pro-democracy call and a rejection of attempts by Beijing to curtail the freedoms of the semi-autonomous territory.

"It’s ‘now or never’ for Hong Kong, " said a 33-year-old accountant who gave her surname as Wong.

"I’m a mother-of-two. They didn’t come today but their grandmother did. We’re defending the right of assembly for the next generation in Hong Kong."

Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of Beijing’s rejection of a call for universal suffrage for Hong Kong, which sparked the 79-day "Umbrella Movement" in 2014.

Many protesters are determined not to let the new movement fizzle out as the Umbrella protests did.

At least five high-profile activists and three lawmakers were arrested on Friday in a sweep aimed at defanging Saturday’s rally.

Rights groups say the tactics are cribbed directly from Beijing’s protest playbook.

Two of the Umbrella Movement’s leaders, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow were among those arrested, charged and bailed for "inciting others to take part in unauthorised assembly".

The European Union’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the developments were "extremely worrying", while US President Donald Trump said his economic pressure on China was forcing Beijing to take a more moderate line in Hong Kong.

In an attempt to sidestep Saturday’s protest ban, crowds earlier carried Christian crosses and sang "Hallelujah" in religious gatherings – which do not require the same stringent permission from authorities.

The demonstrators, who have earned a reputation for their creativity and unpredictability, also called for "mass shopping trips" in the city centre.

"The mass arrests yesterday were an obvious tactic to scare us off. Instead, (the government) lures us to come out today and then they can start their second round of mass arrest," said a protester online.

On Saturday morning, LIHKG, the Reddit-like forum used by protesters to communicate, reported via Twitter that its app had suffered the "largest attack it has ever seen".

Police on Friday confirmed three lawmakers – and a district councillor – had been arrested over their alleged actions in previous protests, but denied the sweep was timed specifically to weaken the weekend’s protests.

More than 900 people have been arrested since June in connection to protests.

Hong Kong’s crisis-hit government has refused to back down over the protests, which have seen millions march peacefully through the streets but also hardcore groups of radical protesters hurl bricks and petrol bombs at police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The violence has damaged Hong Kong’s reputation for stability and prosperity.

China has responded with a campaign of intimidation. State media on Friday reported that fresh military anti-riot drills were held across the border in Shenzhen.

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