Running battles in Hong Kong

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The protests on 28 September 2019 promised to be a tough confrontation between police and protesters. Both parties knew it would be a “general rehearsal” for what would take place on October 1st, 2019, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. And we were not disappointed, that day became one of running battles between police and protesters.

An Anti-totalitarian march

True to form, this protest, which had been declared illegal had everything thrown at it to stop protesters from marching. MTR shut down several stations along the path of the protest, police checked cars and buses at cross-harbour tunnels, and police were even deployed in Causeway Bay to stop protests.

But this did not stop protesters from eventually congregating in Causeway Bay, and starting to march with worldwide flags.

Flags in Causeway Bay
Protesters marching with flags in Causeway Bay

Other protesters marched with “Chinazi” flags (a contraction of “China” and “Nazi”), where the Chinese stars formed a swastika.

The Chinazi flag
The Chinazi flag

As we marched forward, the protest kept giving signs of moving back and forth, people yelling instructions to each other or giving hand signals.

Young girls salute with banners
Young protesters salute the camera with their “chinazi” posters.

The footbridge

Soon, we came across the reason for those back and forth: a footbridge held by riot police across Hennesy road. The policemen were holding the bridge while being attacked simultaneously, from the direction of Admiralty and from Causeway Bay.

Riot police shooting tear gas
Riot police shooting tear gas from the Wanchai footbridge.

Despite being pushed back time and again, protesters once again ran under the cover of the footbridge.

Protesters run to cover
Protesters run to cover under the footbridge

This time, the protesters amassed objects and prepared to assault the footbridge through the stairs.

Protesters prepare to assault the footbridge
Protesters prepare to assault the footbridge.

As they prepared to move on, riot police suddenly appeared from the footbridge shooting the protesters from above with bean bags.

Police shooting bean bags
Police shooting bean bags

Although called “bean bags”, the projectiles are actually small bags containing lead pellets. With their model being 2581 super-sock, it is expressly recommended in the manufacturer manual not to use these on head, neck or spine.

A cartridge of 2581 super-
A 2581 super-sock expended shell

“However, it is stressed that shot placement rather than deployment range is the critical factor in determining the extent of injury caused. Shots to the head, neck, thorax, heart or spine can result in fatal or serious injury “

A passage from the manufacturer’s manual.

In Wanchai, the police was shooting these projectiles, not only from above, but on the head of back of protesters who had only umbrellas as protection.

Second Assault

Despite being pushed back once, protesters came back and managed to chase the police from the footbridge. I followed them to their vehicles where they resupplied and came back up ready to face off once again.

Riot police gets ready to take back the footbridge
Riot police gets ready to take back the Wanchai footbridge

The squadron then moved ahead, flags deployed and pushed the journalists back to the other end.

Riot police deploying on the footbridge
Riot police deploying on the footbridge.

The unit commander decided to push himself back the journalists, yelling in Cantonese in his microphone and shining a powerful light into the cameras and the faces of the journalists.

The unit commander shines a light in my face
The unit commander shines a light in my face.

The last assault

Despite being now in numbers on the footbridge, the police were unable to contain the waves of protesters who continued advancing from both sides, throwing bricks on the footbridge as they advanced.

Two protesters throw bricks on the footbridge
Two protesters throw bricks on the footbridge.

The multiple shots of tear gas were immediately tackled by the protesters who, by now had grown quite proficient at extinguishing the canisters.

A protester extinguishes a canister of tear gas
A protester extinguishes a canister of tear gas with a traffic cone and water.

After each inroad, protesters collected themselves under their now famous umbrellas.

Protesters shelter under umbrellas
Protesters shelter under umbrellas

Other protesters gathered under the footbridge, being ready to carry their final assault.

Frontliners ready for action
Frontliners with makeshift are ready for action.

And finally, all hell broke loose. Protesters made a final massive push from both sides at once, and pushed on to the footbridge, pushing back the police.

The final assault

A disorderly retreat

Although shooting quite liberally their “less lethal” rounds, the police were eventually pushed back quite far.

Riot police targeting protesters on the footbridge
Riot police targeting protesters on the footbridge

Instead of following the crowd up the stairs, I decided to take an alternate route and go to where I knew the police were positioned.

The policeman recognized me as not being a threat, and motioned me into a safe area where I could continue shooting. As that happened, the protesters arrived about at the same area, and the policeman trained his riot gun on them, but did not shoot.

A policeman targets the protesters on the footbridge
A policeman targets the protesters on the footbridge.

The police retired in disorder, and one of the policemen who kept going backwards instead of joining his comrades had to be dragged back by his commander. It seems some of the policemen lost control and got scared. And that was the cause of an incident I will talk of in a while.

Riot police retire disorderly
Riot police retire disorderly

Protesters threw a molotov cocktail from the footbridge, thus bringing back two officers to shoot tear gas grenades and rubber bullets.

Riot police prepare to shoot tear gas
Riot police prepare to shoot tear gas

In the end, the police unit climbed slowly into their vans as two policemen provided cover shooting their less lethal rounds on the footbridge.

Police provide cover shooting on the footbridge
Police provide cover, shooting on the footbridge.

After shooting several rounds (I guess emptying the five rounds of bean bags), the police pulled back.

A policeman is pulled by his commander
A policeman is pulled by his commander back to the van.

You can also see the full scene in this video filmed as I was taking pictures.

The riot police retreat

A panicked departure and taking stock of the situation

As the police pulled back into their vans and left, some protesters came out to attack them with molotov cocktails.

Protesters throw molotov cocktails on police vans
Protesters throw molotov cocktails on police vans.

Once the police left, protesters threw various debris across the road to cut traffic.

Protesters block the roads
Protesters block the roads

In the meantime, it appeared that while evacuating the footbridge, a police officer had shot a bean bag at eye level to an Indonesian reporter as can be seen in this video.

Reporter hit in the eye

This tragedy, on the moment, was lost on me, as I was resting after running a lot around. But the running battles of Hong Kong were not yet over.

As now the road was free, frontliners decided to continue advancing towards Admiralty.

Protesters take shelter behind umbrellas near the police HQ
Protesters take shelter behind umbrellas and a road sign near Admiralty.

Tear gas galore

The movement forward was soon to become a full-blown retreat, as tear gas started raining on the protesters, from front lines of riot police near Pacific place and from cordons placed on the overhead footbridges.

A protester retreats from the tear gas
A protester retreats from the tear gas.

Others, tried to battle tear gas as they could, sending it back towards the police lines.

Despite their efforts, the protesters had to pull back.

Protesters pull back

Nevertheless, before the onslaught and the advancement of the hated “raptors”, the special tactics squad, protesters pulled back without going to contact with the police. They did try to provoke the police with laser pointers.

A protester points a laser pointer on the police
A protester points a laser pointer on the police

Some “older uncles” were also there equipped for a fight:

An uncle equipped for a fight
An uncle equpped for a fight

To cover their retreat, in between a lull in the shots of tear gas, the protesters lit up a blaze in the middle of the road.

Protesters light a blaze
Protesters light a blaze
Fire lit in Wanchai

The retreat

A long retreat, began, all the way to Causeway Bay. Along the way, protesters dug up bricks, erected makeshift barricades and prepared for the upcoming fight.

A protester retreating
A protester retreating in the vicinity of Causeway Bay.

The barricades were prepared to make it difficult for riot police to pursue the protesters.

Protesters project lasers on the police
Protesters project lasers on the police while waiting for the water canon

And meantime, the police kept progressing with a water canon this time.

Some protesters took “burn with us” quite literally, posing before a blaze.

A protester poses in front of a blaze
A protester poses in front of a blaze

Some protesters took a breather and checked their smartphones for news and situational awareness.

Protesters check their smartphones
Protesters check their smartphones

Others built a little Alamo around the Black Bauhinia flag and awaited nervously the riot police.

Protesters await the onslaught
Protesters await the onslaught

The Final push

Soon, this would all turn to chaos, as the police started shooting tear gas, flooding the whole area in acrid smoke.

Tear gas drowns the streets
Tear gas drowns the streets as photographers try to seize the instant.

Tear gas caused protesters to once again stampede around their own barricades…

Stampede in tear gas
Stampede in tear gas.

The protesters formed another line of defence with umbrellas, with the same girl as previously, again shining her laser pointer on the police.

A girl shining a laser on the police ahead of a line of umbrellas
A girl shines a laser on the police

Police eventually cleared the various barricades and moved ahead spraying a blue dyed liquid on journalists, which I escaped only in the nick of time. We then found ourselves running along the rearguard of the protesters who were contending with a hail of tear gas.

Protesters face off with riot police in Causeway Bay

As the things finally wrapped up, we finally got a closer look of the water canon. The police were ironically offering one ice cream for any protester who goes home by himself.

As we tried to find a way across the harbour, we came across a weird scene of three girls trying to challenge the water canon by carrying out a sort of dance taken from Doraemon.

Silly girls dancing
Silly girls dancing in front of the water canon.

Just a rehearsal

As things wound down, the realization came that the events of 29 September were but a rehearsal of what was to come on 1st October. And on first October, things got wild all over Hong Kong. Police attempted to capture protesters at each tunnel exit, by searching passengers on each bus. Our bus driver took the initiative not to stop at the cross-harbour station, avoiding us some difficult time with the police.

As I got home, nothing could let me think that two days later, I was again to face handguns in Wong Tai Sin.

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