HONG KONG, Sept 29 – Pro-democracy protests brought widespread travel chaos toHong KongMonday with many schools and businesses shuttered but the city’s stock exchange said it would operate as usual. As commuters tried to make their way to work, crowds of defiant demonstrators controlled a number of major thoroughfares and intersections in the heavily congested city. An AFP reporter on the scene in Mongkok — one of the most densely populated suburbs of the city and the site of a second protest across the harbour in Kowloon — saw angryconfrontationsbetween protestors and members of the public frustrated at the disruption.
Banks, jewellery shops and clothes stores in the busy shopping district remained closed. The Transport Department said more than 200 bus routes were suspended or diverted while central sections of the tram network were also down. The city’s underground rail service was largely unaffected but multiple station exits in the island districts of Causeway Bay and Admiralty — where many international businesses are located — were closed after protesters blocked them with barricades. Some exits at Mongkok were also blocked.
The Education Bureau said schools in the areas where protesters had gathered would remain closed with parents urged to “place safety as a top priority”. The city’s stock exchange insisted it would continue to operate as normal but the Hong Kong Monetary Authority said 17 banks were forced to close 29 branches across the city. Standard Chartered, HSBC Holdings, Bank of East Asia, the Bank of China and CITIC were among those who said their operations were affected by the protests. The government also announced all committee meetings at the city’s legislative building, which has become a major gathering point for protesters, would be cancelled.
Riot police advanced on Hong Kong democracy protesters in the early hours of Monday, firing volleys of tear gas after launching a baton-charge in the worst unrest there since China took back control of the former British colony two decades ago. Some protesters erected barricades to block security forces amid chaotic scenes still unfolding just hours before one of the world’s major financial centers was due to open for business. Many roads leading to the Central business district remained sealed off as thousands defied police calls to retreat.
Earlier, police baton-charged a crowd blocking a key road in the government district in defiance of official warnings that the demonstrations were illegal. Several scuffles broke out between police in helmets, gas masks and riot gear, with demonstrators angered by the firing of tear gas, last used in Hong Kong in 2005. “If today I don’t stand up, I will hate myself in future,” said taxi driver Edward Yeung, 55, as he swore at police on the frontline. “Even if I get a criminal record it will be a glorious one.” White clouds of gas wafting between some of the world’s most valuable office towers and shopping malls underscored the struggle that China’s Communist Party faces in stamping its will on Hong Kong’s more than 7 million people.
“NEVER GIVE UP”
Police had not used tear gas in Hong Kong since breaking up protests by South Korean farmers against the World Trade Organisation in 2005. “We will fight until the end … we will never give up,” said Peter Poon, a protester in his 20s, adding that he may have to retreat temporarily during the night. Police denied rumors that they had used rubber bullets. A spokesperson for China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the central government fully supported Hong Kong’s handling of the situation “in accordance with the law”. Such dissent would never be tolerated on the mainland, where the phrase “Occupy Central” was blocked on Sunday on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. It had been allowed earlier in the day.
– PHOTOS BY: GETTY IMAGES / ASSOCIATED PRESS (AP) / HONG KONG PRESS PHOTOGRAPHER ASSOCIATION (HKPPA)