Protesters in Hong Kong decry government’s ’empty rhetoric’ amid warning from China

Hong Kong protesters held an inaugural “People’s Press Conference” on Tuesday to condemn what they called the government’s “empty rhetoric” and instances of alleged police abuse.

Three protesters who spoke to reporters said the briefing was intended to counter the regular government and police news conferences in which authorities have repeatedly decried violent acts by some pro-democracy demonstrators.

Some officers have shown “total lack of self-discipline,” said an activist using the pseudonym Jerry Chan, who added that some tear gas was fired on residential buildings during clashes across several districts Monday.

Many rally participants have chosen to hide their identities because they fear official retribution.

Hong Kong has seen a string of demonstrations that began in June against proposed extradition legislation that would have allowed some criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China to stand trial. While the government has since suspended the bill, protesters have pressed on with broader calls for democratic reforms, an investigation into the police brutality allegations and for the city’s leader to step down.

A Chinese official responsible for Hong Kong affairs, meanwhile, said punishment for those behind weeks of sometimes violent protests in the Chinese special administrative region is “only a matter of time.”

The comments Tuesday by Yang Guang, spokesperson for the Chinese Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, appeared to indicate Beijing will take a hard line against the protests and has no plans to open a dialogue on their demands for political reforms.

Yang singled out “brazen, violent and criminal actors” and the “meddling hands behind the scenes” as the focus law enforcement efforts, saying “as for their punishment, it’s only a matter of time.”

Yang also called on Hong Kong citizens to turn on the protesters by refusing to accept their promotional materials and opposing disruptions to public transport.

General strike, clashes on Monday

A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the framework of “one country, two systems,” which promised the city certain democratic freedoms not afforded to the Communist Party-ruled mainland. But some Hong Kong residents feel that Beijing has been increasingly encroaching on their freedoms.

At the protesters’ news conference, they apologized for the inconveniences brought on by a general strike Monday that paralyzed regular workday operations in the city. Major roads and public transit lines were blocked, while at least 77 flights out of the airport were cancelled.

An injured man is attended to as he sits on the street after a clash during a protest in Tsuen Wan district of Hong Kong on Monday. (Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images)

Protesters challenged law enforcement in at least eight districts Monday, responding to continuous rounds of tear gas with practiced swiftness. Some started fires outside police stations and hurled bricks and eggs at officers.

Comments from Chinese officials and a publicity video for the Hong Kong-stationed Chinese army troops have fuelled speculation that the Communist Party’s military will be sent to quell protesters.

Chan said Tuesday that he hopes Hong Kong residents will carefully consider how to respond if the army does intervene.

“I believe the protesters and Hong Kong citizens will ‘be water’ and know what to do,” he said, referring to the protesters’ philosophy of taking a fluid approach to their demonstrations.

The three protesters organized their briefing through LIHKG, an online forum that has been vital to the movement. They emphasized that they cannot represent all demonstrators, but instead hope to provide a platform to respond to what they say are “rumours” spread by the government.

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