Hong Kong activists have protested against mainland Chinese traders in a town near the border, seeking to channel energy from huge demonstrations against an extradition bill to another problem they say the government has mismanaged.
Saturday’s demonstration in the town of Sheung Shui, not far from the Chinese city of Shenzhen, started peacefully but devolved into scuffles and shouting, with police firing pepper spray at protesters and pushing them back with baton charges. Demonstrators threw umbrellas and hard hats back at them.
The protest in Sheung Shui was the latest in a string of demonstrations that have roiled the former British colony for more than a month, fuelling its biggest political crisis since China regained control of the territory in 1997.
Millions of people have taken part in street protests, with hundreds even storming the legislature on July 1, against the now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to China to face trial.
Critics saw the bill as a threat to Hong Kong’s rule of law. Chief Executive Carrie Lam suspended the bill last month in the face of opposition and this week said it was “dead”. But opponents say they will settle for nothing short of its formal withdrawal.
Most of the protests have taken place in and around Hong Kong’s central business district, but recently demonstrators turned their sights to parts of the territory that have seen less political activity. They have also sought to broaden support for the movement by focusing on narrower, more domestic issues.
Tens of thousands of protesters staged an anti-extradition march last Sunday through one of the most popular tourist shopping areas in Kowloon, where they tried to win support from mainland Chinese tourists.
On Saturday, the focus again turned away from downtown Hong Kong to Sheung Shui, a town close to the border where so-called “parallel traders” from the mainland buy bulk quantities of duty-free goods, which they then carry into China to sell.