HONG KONG (AP) — The Latest on protests in Hong Kong (all times local):
Protesters have surrounded a Hong Kong police station to demand the release of a university student arrested for apparently buying laser pointers in the latest confrontation for the Chinese city.
The showdown continued into early Wednesday, with police using tear gas at one point to try to clear out the protesters in the blue-collar Sham Shui Po neighborhood.
Police spokesman Chow Hok-yin said Tuesday evening that officers arrested a man on suspicion of buying multiple “laser guns” that were 18 centimeters (7 inches) long.
But reporters challenged the description, and the spokesman clarified that the devices resembled flashlights. That suggested the items were actually laser pointers, which Hong Kong protesters have increasingly used against police.
Hong Kong police justified the arrest by saying lasers can be used as a weapon, as has been seen during the weeks of demonstrations that have wracked Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Baptist University Students’ Union demanded the release of its president, Keith Fong, in a Facebook post that accused the police of fabricating the weapons charge.
Hong Kong police say the city has largely returned to normal following a day and night of chaos in which protesters paralyzed traffic and assaulted 21 police stations and other facilities with bricks, gasoline bombs and other weapons.
Police spokesman Tse Chun-chung said at a daily briefing Tuesday that 148 people aged 13-63 had been arrested in the incidents. He said police fired 800 tear gas grenades and 140 rubber bullets during the clashes, which jumped from spot to spot across the territory of 7.4 million people.
He said the protesters also damaged traffic lights, assaulted members of the public and spread corrosive liquids as part of what he described as “guerrilla tactics.”
Tse said some officers had been injured but would “stand their ground and perform their best.”
Weeks of protests have demanded the dissolution of the legislature, an investigation into police use of force against protesters and full democracy for the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
A pro-democracy lawmaker in Hong Kong says protesters should target the city government rather than police officers who are “caught in the middle.”
Legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung also said Tuesday that the protest movement should also not be understood as being in opposition to the Communist Party-led central government in Beijing. He said the main struggle is between protesters and the administration of Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam.
Protesters in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory have increasingly challenged riot police who have employed tear gas to force defiant demonstrators to disperse. Protesters taking part in a general strike Monday started fires outside police stations and vandalized public property.
China warned Tuesday that “it’s only a matter of time” before leaders of the protest movement are punished.
A Chinese official responsible for Hong Kong affairs says punishment for those behind weeks of sometimes violent protests in the Chinese special administrative region is “only a matter of time.”
The comments Tuesday by Yang Guang, spokesman for the Chinese Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, appear to indicate Beijing will take a hard line against the protests and has no plans to open a dialogue on their demands for political reforms.
Yang singled out “brazen, violent and criminal actors” and the “meddling hands behind the scenes” as the focus law enforcement efforts, saying “as for their punishment, it’s only a matter of time.”
Yang also called on Hong Kong citizens to turn on the protesters by refusing to accept their promotional materials and opposing disruptions to public transport.
Hong Kong protesters have condemned what they call the government’s “empty rhetoric” and instances of alleged police abuse in an inaugural “People’s Press Conference.”
Three protesters who spoke to reporters Tuesday said the briefing was intended to counter the regular government and police news conferences in which authorities have repeatedly decried violent acts by some pro-democracy demonstrators.
An activist using the pseudonym Jerry Chan said some officers have shown “total lack of self-discipline,” adding that some tear gas was fired on residential buildings during clashes across several districts Monday.
The protesters apologized for the inconveniences brought on by a general strike Monday that paralyzed regular workday operations in the city. Major roads and public transit lines were blocked, while at least 77 flights out of the airport were cancelled.
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