Tear gas was fired as protesters ignored rules on social distancing to demonstrate against Beijing’s plan to impose security legislation that they see as a threat to freedoms.
HONG KONG — Thousands of protesters and riot police officers swarmed some of Hong Kong’s busiest neighborhoods on Sunday, cutting off traffic and freezing most retail activity in the city’s largest street mobilization in months.
The confrontations, which began around 1 p.m., were scattered throughout the Causeway Bay and Wan Chai neighborhoods, both lively commercial hubs. Protesters had originally planned to march between the two neighborhoods in a show of opposition to China’s push to tighten its control over the semiautonomous region with security legislation.
But when the police blocked their route, deploying tear gas and water cannons, protesters splintered into clusters of dozens or sometimes hundreds that dispersed and reassembled repeatedly over the course of several hours.
Many residents see the move by China’s ruling Communist Party to impose national security laws in Hong Kong as a major, perhaps irreparable, blow to the city’s relative autonomy. It rekindled longstanding fears that the Communist Party would use such sweeping legislation to strangle the civil liberties — such as freedom of assembly and press — that distinguish the city from the mainland.
“Hong Kong independence is the only way out,” protesters chanted as they poured onto a busy thoroughfare in the Causeway Bay shopping area. They sang songs and hoisted signs as they pressed forward, ignoring the warnings of dozens of police officers in riot gear to disperse.
The demonstration was the biggest in the territory in the several months since the coronavirus epidemic and rules on social distancing have kept many antigovernment protesters at home.