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How did one of the safest cities in the world go into violence?

Although crime is committed in every metropolis with seven million inhabitants, violence is incredibly rare – in the first four months of this year, approximately 2,600 violent crimes were recorded by the police, compared to over 70,000 cases of violence against the person in the metropolis of London , a similar sized city.

There were only 29 robberies in Hong Kong during the same period, and more than 12,500 in London.

Even in the midst of mass protests and marches, which are an integral part of Hong Kong's political culture, the mood was almost always peaceful and secure. The 2014 Umbrella Movement was the model for this stance: demonstrators set up recycling stations, cyber cafés and art installations in the main occupied territories, and parents with small children and business people visited them during lunch break and on weekends.

The use of tear gas and pepper spray by the Hong Kong police in the early hours of the 201

4 protests led to an unsuccessful attempt to clean up the crowds, causing shock and outrage and more people taking to the streets. The police's handling of the remainder of the three-month occupation was far more measured, and the demonstrators were not completely cleared until time and fatigue eased their lines.

The Wednesday scenes could not be more different.

The police fired many tear gases without warning, using pepper spray and rubber bullets on protesters who did not want to move. Videos showed how the police on several occasions pulled down unarmed demonstrators and beat them with batons, and CNN saw police guns firing rubber bullets at journalists and withdrawing demonstrators.

Police and government officials outlined the protests on Wednesday – which erupted as a highly controversial extradition law with China should be passed in Parliament's second reading – as a riot and accordingly by officers in heavy protective gear and gas masks.

"These riots, which damage social peace and disregard the law, are unbearable in any civilized society that respects the rule of law," said Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

  A police officer fires tear gas in clashes with demonstrators during a rally against a controversial extradition bill in front of the Hong Kong government on June 12, 2019.

Descent into the Force

Several hours early Wednesday It seemed to be a repeat of the Umbrella movement. The demonstrators had taken control of the main roads surrounding the Legislature and were begging, setting up First Aid stalls and distributing food, water and tear gas.

Legislators made speeches to the crowd and congratulated them on opposing the government and the police. The speed with which the demonstrators took over streets and blocked the legislative complex seemed to deceive them completely.

"(This) amounts to a demonstration of the people's power in Hong Kong, in particular a demonstration of youth power," said opposition legislator Claudia Mo to the tens of thousands who had gathered, to great rejoicing.

"You have every right … the boys have every right to express their feelings, their anger, their frustration, their resentment in any way they want, for this is their Hong Kong, their future."

When she made that speech, the denseness of the crowd and the determination of the demonstrators meant that only a high level of force was sufficient to clear them, which made the experience of the later days of the Umbrella protests less likely to make police less likely ready to force a confrontation by trying to clear the streets.

However, police tactics this week were completely different than they were five years ago. Far from retreating, heavily armed rioters gathered in downtown Admiralty as the demonstrators attempted to push the barricades further toward the legislature and central government buildings.

After demonstrators crossed Tim Wa Avenue, the road that leads to the building's entrance, the police fired their first tear gas jerry cans. Faster action followed, though demonstrators managed to occupy the street and capture many officials inside the government complex.

Reinforcements were fired in tear gas and pepper spray before the demonstrators were charged with batons. In public statements released on Wednesday, government officials said demonstrators threw bricks and sharpened masts, but CNN only saw umbrellas, plastic bottles, and plastic helmets used as projectiles.

The clearance work lasted for hours until late at night, bringing a large part of the city center to a standstill, with important subway stations and roads blocked or blocked for tear gas clouds.

At least 79 people were injured in the clashes, several severe, compared to around 40 on the first night of the 2014 protests, none of which was seriously injured.

At a press conference on Thursday evening, Steven Lo Wai-chung, the Hong Kong police commissioner, said eleven people were arrested on Wednesday for disorderly behavior in a public place, unlawful assembly and attacks on a police officer.

He said 22 policemen were injured during the protests, although it is not clear if the 79 injured include the number of injured police officers.

Lo said that the demonstrators violently and organized with bricks and sharpened metal bars acted to attack the police. "We had no choice but to escalate the use of force," Lo said. "We strongly condemn the violent behavior of the rioters."

  Police force non-lethal projectiles in violent clashes with demonstrators in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019.

Deviation from the norm

The violence on Wednesday has shocked Hong Kong, especially police videos, with close-up shots and demonstrators beating down on the ground, a visual reminder of the fears that many have when the city loses its freedom from Beijing.

The more aggressive tactics of young demonstrators compared to 2014 – almost all of them masked and protected against tear gas and pepper spray – has also caused some criticism, particularly from pro-governmental areas, and has increasingly claimed that Lams behavior has triggered a riot ,

It is undeniable that the protesters took the fight more to the police than in 2014, but compared to scenes from Paris or Catalonia, where the demonstrations were also heavily prosecuted, they were far less destructive and aggressive towards officers.

While the Hong Kong government accused protesters of "burning (and damaging) nearby public facilities," CNN reporters saw no evidence during the protests. No cars or tires were burned, and the demonstrators were careful to keep the sites clean and even set up recycling stations.

The peace was restored on Thursday, but with the government refusing to withdraw the extradition plan and demonstrators determined to stop it, it remains to be seen how long this will last.

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