Jae C. Hong / AP
Thousands of Democracy-oriented demonstrators returned to the streets of Hong Kong on Saturday, bumping into police on one of the most dramatic and violent days of civil unrest since the protests began in June.
The most striking picture of the protests on Saturday was that of a big fire blazing in a street in a big shopping district. The demonstrators erected a barricade wall and set fire to it.
Earlier on Saturday, police fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse the demonstrators by throwing objects and gasoline bombs at the government headquarters. Demonstrators also reportedly gathered near the Hong Kong police headquarters.
Some demonstrators called their demonstration a "religious rally" early Saturday – which NPR correspondent Emily Feng described as an attempt to circumvent the police restrictions surrounding protests (police still consider the event an illegal rally) ,
"Throughout the afternoon, the protesters alternately sang for democratic elections and also sang religious songs," Feng told NPR's weekend edition. They said they prayed for peace – and also for "sinners".
The Saturday demonstrations took place on the fifth anniversary of Beijing's decision to continue examining all candidates for the position of Hong Kong General Manager. This decision sparked off the "Umbrella Revolution" in 2014, which consisted of months of protests against democracy, but ultimately did not hold direct elections for Hong Kong.
The last three months of the protests in Hong Kong were triggered by laws that allowed the Hong Kong government to extradite people to China for certain crimes – a suggestion that critics feared could be used to crack down on outspoken critics of China ,
Although Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam responded to protests in mid-June by suspending the bill, the protesters continued to demonstrate that the bill still needs to be formally withdrawn. The activists have since expanded their list of demands to include demands for Lam's resignation, direct elections, police tactics investigations, and the unconditional release of all arrested demonstrators.
Lam rejected or ignored the claims. On Tuesday, Lam said the government is checking all "legal means to stop violence and chaos" in Hong Kong. This week, China sent additional troops to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Police Commander Kwok Pak Chung said in a press conference on Friday that unauthorized demonstrators could face jail terms of up to five years.
The demonstrators, despite this warning – as Feng reported from the NPR – are "angry at what they consider to be police brutality, and they are being fueled by a wave of arrests by prominent activists and politicians. "  On Thursday and Friday, police arrested three prominent activists – especially 22-year-old Joshua Wong, head of Demosisto youth activist group. Wong was released on bail and participated in the protests on Saturday, Feng told NPR. According to several media reports, three pro-democracy lawmakers were arrested on Friday.
Hong Kong police arrested more than 900 people in connection with the protests this summer. However, some see these targeted detentions as a change of strategy. Man-kei Tam, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, described the recent arrests and ban on Saturday's rally as "scare tactics directly from Beijing's playbook." The protest movement in Hong Kong remains a leaderless movement.
On Sunday, protesters want to shut down transport lines to Hong Kong International Airport for the third time in three months. On Monday, a general strike will begin between universities and many other sectors.
"I think if the government is tough, we are tough," said Isaac Cheng, a deputy chairman of Demosisto. "We ask the government, please respond to the five demands as soon as possible, otherwise people may use more radical or tougher methods to respond to the government's response."