Asia

Fresh Hong Kong clashes outside Sha Tin shopping mall

HONG KONG: Hong Kong protesters clashed with riot police outside a mall on Sunday (Sep 22), with some activists vandalising a nearby subway station and defacing a Chinese flag.

Police fired brief volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets in the northern town of Sha Tin late Sunday afternoon, capping a day which saw thousands rally peacefully inside a mall before the mood soured.

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Riot police arrive in force during a protest at the New Town Plaza shopping mall in Hong Kong's Sha Tin district, Sep 22, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

Authorities reduced rail and bus links to the city's airport while police stepped up security checks in a successful bid to stop a crowd from massing at the bustling transport hub.

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The airport – the world's eighth busiest – has become a frequent target for demonstrators pushing for greater democratic rights and police accountability.

Online forums used by the largely leaderless movement had called for a "stress test" of the airport on Sunday, code for disrupting travel links or occupying buildings.

READ: Hong Kong airport announces special measures for rail services as protesters plan to block traffic

READ: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

A note that reads "RIP SHK", the latter being the initials of Sun Hung Kai Properties, one of Hong Kong's largest property developer, is seen on a vandalised advertising board during a protest at the New Town Plaza shopping mall in Hong Kong's Sha Tin district, Sep 22, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri)

A man walks past vandalised ticketing machines at the Sha Tin MTR station during a protest in Hong Kong, Sep 22, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri)

Instead thousands gathered inside a mall in the northern town of Sha Tin to sing protest songs and make origami cranes, the latest rally in what has now been 16 consecutive weekends of protests and clashes.

Many shops inside the complex shuttered but the unsanctioned rally remained civil for much of the afternoon.

"Even if we are very tired, we can't give up on our rights," a teacher at the rally, who have her surname as Ching, told AFP.

"If it (the movement) stretches to 100 days, 200 days or even 1,000 days and we still don't get what we want, we will continue to come out."

CHINESE FLAG PULLED DOWN

Tensions rose later in the afternoon when masked activists paraded a Chinese flag through the mall that had been torn down from a nearby government building. It was later thrown into a nearby river.

Groups of masked protesters then vandalised ticket machines in Sha Tin's subway before riot police rushed in to close the station down.

READ: Hong Kong a 'police state,' prominent protesters tell AFP

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Protesters desecrate the Chinese national flag during a protest at the New Town Plaza shopping mall in Hong Kong's Sha Tin district, Sep 22, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

Before police arrived, local television networks showed footage of a man with bruises and cuts to his face being harangued by protesters inside the station.

Increasingly brutal fights between opposing sides have broken out in recent weeks – a vivid illustration of the ideological fissures now running through the international finance hub.

A standoff between police and a few dozen activists behind umbrella shield walls ensued but the protesters soon dispersed once tear gas and rubber bullets were launched at them.

Police snatch squads made multiple arrests.

Riot officers were also called in to rescue Patrick Nip, a minister in the Hong Kong government, after his chauffeured car was surrounded by angry protesters, local news outlets South China Morning Post and RTHK reported.

Video posted online showed residents heckling a car that was surrounded by a large crowd which quickly ran away once riot police came onto the scene.

MONTHS OF CHAOS

Millions of supporters have taken to Hong Kong's streets for the past three months i

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