Days of fire in Hong Kong

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Friday 13 September, on the occasion of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the peaceful and cheerful celebrations on several mountains of Hong Kong gave a glimmer of hope and peace. Within the same week-end, however, we moved from mid-autumn lanterns to days of fire in Hong Kong. In the case you would understandably lose track of the timelines involved, here is a useful recap of what happened.

Another prohibited protest

Not unlike the previous protest, the police again prohibited a march organized by the Civic Front, the main organizers of some of the biggest protests in Hong Kong. This time the protest was prohibited and even a static rally in Victoria park was not allowed, unlike the last mass protest that took place in Hong Kong.

The people took to the streets this time again, numerous, but obviously nowhere near the previous protests in numbers.

The protest marches on to Wanchai
The protesters march on to Wanchai.

Despite this, there were still quite a number of people marching.

As I joined from a side street, I soon found signs that trouble was afoot. Protesters had erected a barricade with bamboo sticks (usually used for scaffolding in Hong Kong).

Bamboo barricades
Bamboo barricades erected in Wanchai.

I launched there my first periscope of the day…

#HongKongProtests #AntiElab Live from the massive protest in #HongKong— Visions of Asia (@VisionOfAsia) September 15, 2019

As we moved ahead, we came to an overpass that was traditionally used by medias desiring a bird’s eye view of the massive protests. This time, the overpass was manned by riot police.

Protesters march under the eyes of riot police

Protesters kept angrily jeering at the policemen as they passed below. Later, when clashes would emerge, this overpass became something of the alamo, but the policemen were not equipped with riot guns or such.

It all starts

While near Admiralty, things were still calm, near the LegCo, things had already heated up, with police water canons spraying the protesters with dyed liquids.

Near the police HQ, some young protesters used the overpass to throw stones on the windows. Police responded with sponge bullets (as you can see below). Unaware of what was happening, I passed straight into the line of fire of the policeman featured, but fortunately, I was wearing my orange vest, thus reducing chances of being harmed. Later, when I climbed the overpass, fellow journalists warned me about danger of being shot by the police. I wore my helmet and took this pic… As it was, the police then brought up shields and the riot gun officer relaxed his gun.

A policeman mans a riot gun near the police HQ, in Wanchai
Police manning a riot gun near police HQ

Still, at that moment, there was no indication about how bad things were about to become.

In order to provide a bird’s eye view of the situation, I flew my drone over the protest.

At this point, tear gas started being shot near the LegCo. A young teenager came to offer me a surgical mask, as he said, tear gas were already shot. I thanked him, but told him to go and offer it to someone who had more need for it.

Beating the retreat

Like a XIXth century army, the protesters started moving en masse back to their point of origin, while giving a wide berth to the police HQ in Wanchai.

Helping to perfect the picture of this XIXth century weaponless army, was a group of drummers, which placed themselves at one side while beating the retreat.

Drummers beating the retrat
Drummers beating the retreat

As people moved on and cleared the way, the rear guard, namely the frontliners established two resistance lines, one on Hennesy road near the police HQ, another delaying the riot police that started clearance near the Legco.

Protesters at the frontlines
Protesters at the frontlines in Wanchai

The protesters kept a cautious distance from the riot police stationed on the overpass, but from time to time, you could see some of them running unhindered under that overpass.

Call to the barricades

As most of the mainstream protesters had moved now safely out of harm’s way, frontliners started, quite typically, inching forward with their paltry obstacles.

Protesters advance on police lines

In a way, their tactics and advance were a bit pathetic, as it showed them essentially being kids. Braver kids than the average, but still just kids.

Protesters look on from behind their "umbrella wall"
Protesters look on from behind their “umbrella wall”

They kept dragging a few trash bins a few steps ahead, then running back…

Moving ahead with obstacles
Protesters moving ahead with obstacles towards police lines

At a point, the riot police frontlines arrived near Wanchai. Protesters then retreated further, lighting up small fires along the way to cover their retreat.

Frontliners ready for action
Frontliners ready for action

As they moved back, protesters tried to add more obstacles on they way in a very futile manner, as generally riot police don’t take more than five seconds to breach the obstacles.

Days of fire

As the protesters pulled back, they started lighting fires on their barricades. The somehow misguided conception being that it would slow down the riot police, giving them time to retreat – which they would have largely had time for, had they moved earlier.

A protester lights up a trash can
Protester lighting up a trash can.

These fires were limited in amplitude, with not a lot of combustible matters, but it was interesting to see protesters equipped with blowtorches. Where I was a bit uneasy was with the impact for the environment, in a city already suffocated by Chinese pollution.

As protesters kept retreating, some of them , this one very spectacular around one exit of the Wanchai MTR. After the MTR, the biggest transit corporation of HK came under fire by Chinese media for foreseeing additional trains to move protesters away, Protesters have increasingly targeted the stations. This especially came true after the MTR closed several stations on the Kwun Tong line, ahead of protests in August.

Damage to the station was limited as the fire brigade arrived quickly, but the spectacular images garnered a lot of attention from the media. Some pictures came across as quite spectacular as can be seen on these images, making it truly “days of fire” for HK.

Protesters escape as a blaze consumes Wanchai station
Protesters escape as a blaze engulfes Wanchai MTR exit.

Protesters kept making the days of fire a reality by lighting up fires to cover their retreat until Causeway Bay, where they met a police cordon closing the road. They then evaporated into side streets.

A garbage fire lit by protesters
Garbage fire lit by protesters

“Be water” has been the Protesters’ tactics, and so far, they avoided direct confrontation as much as possible on that day. But being water, they also gave Hong Kong some of the most fiery days of fire it had known in over thirty years.

The crisis deepened and the image of Hong Kong on fire made the front titles of international medias once again. And as we near October 1st, the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, everybody’s expectation is that things will take a turn for the worst.

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