How Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests went from peaceful demonstrations to tear-gas-filled clashes in 3 months

Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images
  • Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have brought violence to the city in the form of near-weekly clashes between police and activists.
  • Protesters first pushed back against an extradition law in June with peaceful demonstrations, but tensions have since boiled over into clashes of tear gas and makeshift weaponry over larger democratic issues.
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Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong descended into violent chaos over the weekend as authorities and protesters clashed and broke nearly two weeks of peace.

Hundreds of protesters shut down streets and wielded slingshots, poles, iron bars, and bricks in the fight with police that spiraled into chaos after a march that was planned as a peaceful protest over suspected surveillance techniques.

The incident offered an example of the movement’s evolution from a peaceful protest into fiery clashes that Hong Kong police have spent more than 1,800 canisters of tear gas on since June. See how the demonstrations brought the country to a standstill and earned the ire of China.


June 9: An estimated one million people marched to the government headquarters against a proposed bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to China.

Anthony Kwan/Getty ImagesProtesters hold placards and shout slogans during a rally against the extradition law proposal on June 9, 2019 in Hong Kong China.

The demonstration went over largely peacefully and advocates were pleased with the massive turnout.


June 15: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam made a shock announcement that she would indefinitely delay the extradition bill.

Mai Shangmin/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images via Getty ImagesHong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor speaks at a news conference before the weekly Executive Council meeting on August 20, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.

Source: The Guardian


June 16: Despite the announcement, an estimated two million people took to the streets to demand the bill be fully withdrawn and Lam resign.

Anthony Kwan/Getty ImagesProtesters hold banners and shout slogans as they march on a street on June 16, 2019 in Hong Kong China.

Source: CNN


July 1: Protests took a turn as demonstrators stormed the Legislative Council building and caused extensive damage.

ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty ImagesGraffiti is seen behind the speakers chair in the main chamber of the Legislative Council on July 3, 2019, two days after protesters broke into the complex.

The day was the anniversary of Hong Kong’s transfer from the United Kingdom to China, and protesters sprayed graffiti on the walls, waved the flag from the region’s time as a colony, and defaced Hong Kong’s emblem in the building’s main chamber.

The incident left the official building trashed and depicted the movement’s turn to pursuing a broader message of empowerment, including universal suffrage in the city.


July 9: Lam said again that the extradition bill was “dead,” and pleaded with protesters to halt the demonstrations, but she again stopped short from fully withdrawing the bill.

Source: CNBC


July 20: The protests, though initially intended to be peaceful demonstrations, turned increasingly violent as protesters took up more weaponry.

Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesA protester holds a Molotov cocktail during clashes with police after an anti-government rally in Tsuen Wan district on August 25, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.

Police say they seized 2 kilograms, or 4.4 pounds, of explosives, weapons, and metal poles and arrested three people at a suspected bomb-making factory.

One day later, protesters defaced China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong.

That same night, mobs of men in white shirts launched an unprovoked attack in the Yuen Long underground station, near mainland China, reportedly beating commuters with iron rods and bamboo shafts.

The clashes were met with sprays of tear gas from police.

Police said that some members of the group had Triad backgrounds. The Triad is the organised crime network of Hong Kong.

Experts told the Associated Press that the Triad generally is for hire by anyone, and has been mobilized to attack pro-democracy, and pro-China forces alike.


August 5: Tensions reached new heights when protesters turned to city-wide strikes that froze subway lines and major roadways.

Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty ImagesProtesters occupy the train at the Laiking MTR Station during a protest to prevent commuters from reaching work on August 05, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.

The August 5 strikes were reported as perhaps the biggest since at least 1967 when a Chinese Communist Party-allied union sparked widespread labour protests in the then-British colony.


The same day as the subway protests, Carrie Lam gave her first media address in two weeks, saying Hong Kong was “on the verge of a very dangerous situation.”

Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesPeople wait for Hong Kong’s famous Star Ferry to arrive as Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam is seen during a press conference on a television July 9, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.

Source: BBC


August 6: China issued its harshest warning yet to the protesters, warning them to not “play with fire.”

Feng Li/Getty ImagesChinese paramilitary police officers march at the end of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2012.

A Chinese policy spokesman also warned the protesters not to “underestimate the firm resolve [of] the central government” and not to “mistake restraint for weakness.”


August 11: Police fire tear gas at crowds across the city, even in residential neighbourhoods and popular leisure areas.

Anthony Kwan/Getty ImagesA medic gives an eyewash to a protester after police fired tear gas during a demonstration on Hungry Ghost Festival day outside a police station in Sham Shui Po district on August 14, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.

Source: The New York Times


August 12 and 13: Protesters caused their biggest disruption yet when they brought Hong Kong International Airport to a standstill.

PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty ImagesHong Kong pro-democracy protesters block access to the departure gates during another demonstration at Hong Kong’s international airport on August 13, 2019.

Demonstrators physically blocked travellers’ access to the airport and confronted police. There were reports of protesters detaining and beating several people they suspected of being undercover police.

“Sorry for the inconvenience caused. We are fighting for our freedom,” one sign read.


The world’s eighth-busiest airport being forced into a standstill didn’t go unnoticed.

MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty ImagesA Pro-Democracy protester looks at the flight information board showing cancelled flights following a protest against police brutality and the controversial extradition bill at Hong Kong’s international airport on August 12, 2019.

In response to the increasingly violent clashes between the activists and police, China condemned the demonstrations as “behaviour that is close to terrorism,” a harsh turn of rhetoric from Beijing.


August 24: After nearly two weeks of peace, activists and police violently clashed again.

Hundreds of protesters shut down streets and wielded slingshots, poles, iron bars, and bricks as police fired pepper spray and tear gas, breaking a 10-day streak of no tear gas and adding to the 1,800 canisters police said they have fired in the clashes since the beginning of the movement.


The fight with police that spiraled into chaos after a planned march against the government-installed “smart lampposts” that sparked concerns over state surveillance.

Kai Pfaffenbach/ReutersDemonstrators clash with riot police during a protest in Hong Kong, China, August 24, 2019.

Police confronted protesters after they dismantled some poles with saws and ropes as a stark rebuke to surveillance technology.

“Hong Kong people’s private information is already being extradited to China,” organiser Ventus Lau told the Associated Press ahead of the procession. “We have to be very concerned.”

The confrontation sparked violence that continued into the next day, as police used water cannons, tear gas, and warning shots from guns to try and control protesters.

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