Police have used pepper spray and batons against protesters as clashes broke out at dawn ahead of Hong Kong’s Establishment Day flag-raising ceremony.
Hundreds of masked protesters occupied major arteries in Admiralty on Monday morning, cutting off sections of Lung Wo Road, Tim Mei Avenue and Harcourt Road using metal barricades and rubbish bins at around 4 AM.
The clashes occurred hours before an annual July 1 march, expected to be attended by thousands.
At 7.30 AM, police used pepper spray against protesters on Fenwick Pier Street. At least one protester was hospitalised and other injuries have been reported.
Police accused demonstrators of plying bricks from Lung Wo Road in the early hours and warned them against resorting to violence.
MTR services at Admiralty and Wan Chai station were halted at around 7 AM following a police request.
The flag-raising event marking 22 years since the city’s 1997 Handover on Monday was moved for the first time inside of the Convention and Exhibition Centre due to poor weather, the government said.
More roads around the center were closed off on Sunday evening with police, some in riot gear, stationed around its perimeter.
The ceremony featured a rare public appearance from embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who was last seen in public on June 18.
Last Thursday, she hosted a meeting to raise morale among police officers facing accusations of brutality during recent protests.
Lam pledged to listen more to the public in a conciliatory speech ahead of the flag-raisings. On the recent protests, she said: “This has made me fully realise that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiments accurately.”
“I am also fully aware that while we have good intentions, we still need to be open and accommodating,” she added. “While the government has to ensure administrative efficiency, it still needs to listen patiently.”
She did not directly address the clashes earlier in the morning.
An alternative flag-raising ceremony hosted by protesters was canceled due to the clashes in Admiralty.
A black bauhinia flag was, however, raised outside of the Legislative Council on Monday morning as a symbol of protest, which has been occupied by crowds for several weeks.
The city has been shaken by a wave of protests sparked by the government’s controversial legal amendments, which would enable the chief executive and local courts to handle case-by-case fugitive transfer requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements, most notably China. The bill was suspended on June 15, but not axed.
But the demonstrations have morphed into a wider public display of anger against alleged police brutality, dwindling freedoms, and calls for democracy.
Five thousand police officers were deployed for the ceremony, Apple Daily reported.