Hong Kong police fire tear gas, water cannon as protests turn violent

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By Linda Givetash and Mac William Bishop and Reuters  with NBC News World News
Image: HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-UNREST
The water cannon fired blue-dyed water, traditionally used elsewhere in the world to make it easier for police to identify protesters later.   -   Copyright  ANTHONY WALLACE

Hong Kong police fired tear gas and water cannons on Saturday, while protesters launched Molotov cocktails, as anti-government demonstrations that have roiled the territory for months once again turned violent.

Police fired round after round of tear gas as protesters took cover behind umbrellas between the local headquarters of China's People's Liberation Army and government HQ. Protesters also threw bricks at police.

The water cannon fired blue-dyed water, traditionally used elsewhere in the world to make it easier for police to identify protesters later.
The water cannon fired blue-dyed water, traditionally used elsewhere in the world to make it easier for police to identify protesters later.ANTHONY WALLACE

Fears of clashes were running high ahead of the demonstrations, aimed at marking the fifth anniversary of a decision by China to curtail democratic reforms in the former British colony.

Police rejected a permit application for protesters to hold the rally andalso detained and releasedtwo prominent protest organizers ahead of Saturday's march — a move which international human rights group Amnesty International called "an assault on their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."

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Official protest organizers told NBC News on Friday that they were pulling out of demonstrations but both protest organizers and police said an assembly of activists was still expected and could turn violent.

Joshua Wong, one of the protesters who was released on bail Friday, spoke out against police and the government in a series of tweets defending his actions. "Our freedom of assembly and other fundamental rights are eroded," he said. "Hongkonger, together we stand! We shall never surrender!"

On Saturday, demonstrators — many wearing black and face masks — marched in disparate groups throughout Hong Kong in the rain communicating with different hand signals and chanting "stand with Hong Kong" and "fight for freedom."

The city's subway operator suspended some services and shut station exits because of likely "public activities."

Protesters march in the Central district of Hong Kong on Saturday.
Protesters march in the Central district of Hong Kong on Saturday.ANTHONY WALLACE

The demonstrations that have plunged the former British colony into a political crisis began in Juneafter Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam proposed a controversial extradition bill.

The bill raised fears that the rights of Hong Kong's 7 million residents were being eroded under Beijing's rule, as it would allow suspects to be sent to China.

Hong Kong became a special administrative region of China in 1997. Unlike those living in the mainland, residents of the territory can freely surf the internet and participate in public protests.

Demonstrations have since morphed from calling for the withdrawal of the extradition bill to include demands that Lam resign and allegations of police brutality be investigated.