Sudden chaos descended on the bustling streets of Tsim Sha Tsui on Tuesday night, as riot police deployed water cannons to disperse radical anti-government protesters who barricaded roads and vandalised shops, demonstrating their new “flash mob” tactics.
Demonstrators, mainly masked and wearing black, occupied a section of Chatham Road South, after setting up barricades on several side streets in the area to halt traffic.
Some smashed shop windows and spray-painted stores they considered “pro-Beijing” as they marched down alleys in the district. A Best Mart 360 shop and Hunghom Café on Cameron Road were among those vandalised.
The protesters did not stop until they reached the junction of Cheong Wan Road and Chatham Road South, near the Hong Kong Museum of History, where police deployed a water cannon vehicle to disperse the crowds.
A brief stand-off followed as the air filled with sirens and volleys of abuse were thrown at police by protesters.
This led to a game of cat and mouse as protesters split up and spilled onto the many side streets in the area, while another group made for Mong Kok along Nathan Road – a major traffic artery on the Kowloon side.
Online TV news footage showed at least five protesters being subdued and taken away by police after a chase.
Many of the protesters wore masks modelled on the anarchist hero of the comic book V for Vendetta and its film adaptation. The character’s appearance is based on on Guy Fawkes, who made a failed attempt to blow up Britain’s parliament and king in the 17th century.
Peace returned to the area before 10pm after the protesters left. Around the same time, police issued a press statement, condemning the road blockades and vandalism, and warning “protesters to stop their illegal acts”.
The force appealed to bystanders to leave and said people should avoid the area.
One masked protester earlier told fellow demonstrators not to storm the police station because the main purpose of Tuesday night’s flash mob action was to test a new tactic.
“We want to see how fast we can mobilise supporters at short notice and how long it will take for the police to respond and hunt us down,” he said.
Protesters announced on popular online forum LIHKG at 6pm that they would gather in Tsim Sha Tsui for a “V for Vendetta rally” to protest against the mask ban the government imposed exactly one month ago.
Then at 7.30pm, they announced the exact spot was the Urban Council Centenary Garden in Tsim Sha Tsui East.
It started with a seemingly peaceful rally. Some 400 to 500 masked demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans, sang protest songs and read a declaration to condemn what they called government oppression.
Tom Cheung, in his 20s, said he joined the rally in a Guy Fawkes mask to oppose government suppression. He said he was wearing a mask to fight against the law imposed by the government in a bid to contain the ongoing unrest.
“The mask means the spirit will carry on forever. It will not disappear as our number decreases,” Cheung, a hospitality industry worker, said.
“The spirit we want to keep forever is the five demands,” he added, referring to the anti-government protesters’ list of requests, which includes an independent probe into the police’s use of force.
Marisa Lo, a 19-year-old student, said the Guy Fawkes mask was a representation of belief in the movement. She went out with her friend for the event and both were wearing the masks made popular in the 2006 movie V for Vendetta.
“I’m scared that I will be arrested,” she said. “But if we don’t stand up now. I’m afraid I will have no chance in the future.”
She said she had spent HK$500 (US$63) on 50 Vendetta masks to distribute to fellow protesters.
“It has become more risky to [wear masks at protests] since police have become more aggressive in their early intervention tactics,” Lo said.
“But when I see other masked people on the streets, I feel a sense of solidarity and common purpose with them which cannot be replaced.”
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