At least two people are in serious condition in Hong Kong hospitals after a long day and night of violence between police and protesters.
An estimated 5,000 riot police fired tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and bean bags at tens of thousands of protesters as they forcibly cleared streets around the city’s Legislative Council in Admiralty.
Confrontations went late into Wednesday night as crowds of mostly young, college-aged protesters were pushed back from the Legislative Council complex towards the city’s Central district.
At least 81 people were injured in the violence, according to a Hong Kong Hospital Authority spokesperson. Two people were in serious condition, a spokesman for Hong Kong’s information bureau said earlier.
Fifty-seven males and 24 females aged 15 to 66 were treated, the hospital authority said.
At a press conference Thursday evening, Hong Kong Police Commissioner Steven Lo Wai-chung said 11 people had been arrested over the course of Wednesday’s protests on charges of disorderly conduct in a public place, unlawful assembly, and assaulting a police officer.
He said 22 police sustained injuries during the protests, although it is not clear whether the 79 injured includes the number of police who were hurt.
Lo said that protestors acted violently in an organized manner using bricks and sharpened metal poles to attack police. “We had no choice but to escalate the use of force,” Lo said. “We strongly condemn the violent behavior of the rioters.”
Speaking in English, his second language, Lo stressed that police were in control of the situation and would “definitely not” seek additional assistance from the Chinese People’s liberation Army “at the moment.”
According to Lo, police fired 150 tear gas canisters, a “few” rubber bullets and around 20 bean bag rounds.
In a series of statements Thursday, the Legislative Council said no meeting to discuss the extradition bill would be held on Thursday or Friday – a partial victory for protesters and opposition lawmakers, who have been calling for it to be postponed or dropped altogether.
“Announcement will be made once the President determines the time of the meeting,” a statement said.
Central government offices next door to the legislature would also closed be Thursday and Friday, according to a statement.
There was an extremely heavy police presence around the Legislative Council building and the city’s Admiralty area Thursday. Dozens of protesters were also in the area, though their presence was very small compared to the previous day. Photos and videos on social media showed protesters cleaning up litter and debris leftover from Wednesday’s clashes.
Although Hong Kong is part of China, it has separate laws that follow a UK-style system and no capital punishment, unlike mainland China. Many people fear that the proposed extradition law means they could be taken from Hong Kong by Chinese authorities for political or inadvertent business offenses.
Speaking Thursday, opposition lawmakers accused the police of overreaction and likened the violence to scenes more typically associated with mainland China.
“The protesters joined the rally with Hong Kong’s best interests at heart,” pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung said at a presser. “The government has no heart at all.”