WATCH | Batons, tear gas and petrol bombs: Hong Kong reels from worst clashes in months

A riot police officer fires tear gas from a balcony at the government headquarters to disperse protesters during a march in Hong Kong, China, on August 31 2019.
A riot police officer fires tear gas from a balcony at the government headquarters to disperse protesters during a march in Hong Kong, China, on August 31 2019.
Image: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Hong Kong was reeling on Sunday from some of the worst clashes to rock the city in three months of anti-government protests after hardcore demonstrators hurled petrol bombs at police who fired tear gas and deployed water cannons, before making mass arrests inside train stations.

Tens of thousands of people defied authorities to march through the streets of the financial hub in an unsanctioned rally on Saturday, which rapidly descended into violence that stretched into the early hours.

Protesters were out to cause further travel disruption on Sunday, with hundreds gathering outside the airport's bus terminal. Authorities then shut down the city's express train service to the airport.

It followed chaotic scenes on Saturday night, as police chased protesters into metro stations, beating people with batons and carrying out arrests.

Video footage captured by local media showed elite police charge a crowd cowering inside a train carriage - with one man, drenched in pepper spray, crying in anguish on his knees as he tried to protect his female friend. Officers left the carriage without making any immediate arrests.

A small group of hardcore protesters had earlier surrounded the city's legislature, unleashing a barrage of rocks and petrol bombs at riot police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons.

Thick, black smoke swirled from a large fire started by masked demonstrators at a barricade on a major thoroughfare, close to Hong Kong police headquarters.

"The police are a licenced mob, they have the licence to attack and to assault," Kwok Ka-ki, a pro-democracy lawmaker, told AFP.

"The government is no different from an autocratic regime."

Round-up of activists

Saturday marked the fifth anniversary of Beijing's rejection of universal suffrage for Hong Kong that sparked the 79-day "Umbrella Movement" in 2014.

"Peaceful protest doesn't work," 22-year-old demonstrator Stone told AFP, giving one name.

As protesters streamed into a nearby metro, graffiti on a pillar inside the station read: "We shall never surrender."

"With such escalating violence and progressively lethal weapons of protesters, the safety of police officers and other members of the public is seriously threatened," police said in a statement.

Police said officers fired two warning shots into the sky after being attacked by group of "violent protesters who attempted to once snatch police pistols".

The hospital authority said on Sunday that 31 people were admitted with injuries following the clashes, including five who remain in a serious condition.

China's state news agency Xinhua posted a video on Twitter late on Saturday of armed Chinese riot police holding "anti-riot drills in Shenzhen", a city which borders Hong Kong.

Beijing has also unleashed a mix of intimidation, propaganda and economic muscle in an attempt to muzzle the movement, which it views as a direct challenge to its rule.

Police on Friday rounded up several high profile pro-democracy activists and politicians in sweeping arrests that rights groups said was taken directly from Beijing's playbook.

Police denied the sweep was timed specifically to weaken the weekend's protests.

The months-long protests were sparked by an attempt by Hong Kong's Beijing-backed government to pass a now-shelved extradition bill but have expanded into a wider pro-democracy push.

More than 900 people have been arrested since June in connection with the protests.

The weeks of violence have damaged Hong Kong's reputation for stability and prosperity.