A rally in Central to express support for Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang ended in clashes between protesters and police on Sunday afternoon shortly after a national flag was ripped down from a flag pole by City Hall.
The rally had proceeded without incident for around two hours before police rushed in to subdue a number of people at Edinburgh Place at around 5pm, shortly after the flag was spotted lying on the ground.
Masked, black clad protesters – some of whom had been waving flags calling for Hong Kong independence – pelted officers with water bottles and other debris as police beat two suspects with batons in the process of subduing them.
A skateboard was seen being thrown at the officers, but did not appear to hit them. An officer pulled out and pointed his revolver at the crowd at one point when a camera stand was thrown at him, but did not fire.
Riot police responded with bursts of pepper spray, while reinforcements quickly arrived, and ordered hundreds of protesters at the rally to leave immediately, declaring that the previously-sanctioned gathering had ended and they were now participating in an unlawful assembly.
An officer also unfurled a black flag warning that tear gas may be used.
Police fired projectiles as they chased people onto a footbridge over Connaught Road Central. One man was hit by what's thought to be rubber bullets.
Many people were subsequently stopped and searched at the area.
In a statement, police said officers were arresting a man when a large group of “radical protesters had hurled hard objects and assaulted police officers with intent to help the arrestee escape.”
The force said officers used the minimum necessary force to disperse the protesters.
Earlier, hundreds of people had gathered to express concern that Hong Kong will soon face oppression similar to that faced by the Uighurs if Beijing tightens its grip on the territory.
They chanted slogans such as "Stand with Muslims, stand with freedom".
With many in the crowd wearing the anti-government protest movement's signature black clothing and face-masks, some people said their calls for freedom and democracy are universal.
Beijing initially denied the existence of the Xinjiang camps, where up to a million Uighurs are thought to be held, but now says they are "vocational training centres" necessary to combat terrorism.
A government spokesman said the administration ‘strongly condemns’ those who advocated Hong Kong independence during the rally, and ripped down the national flag.
"Advocating Hong Kong independence is inconsistent with the constitutional and legal status of the HKSAR as stipulated in the Basic Law and is not conducive to the overall and long-term interest of Hong Kong society. It is also contrary to the established basic policies of the PRC regarding Hong Kong", he said.
Last updated: 2019-12-22 HKT 22:39