Lights over the harbour in Hong Kong (Simon Roughneen)

PHNOM PENH — Hong Kong police on Sunday fired tear gas at thousands of mostly black-clad protestors who were marching through a busy shopping district and calling for the territory’s liberation from Chinese control.

The stand-off marked the end of a week-long lull in demonstrations and came a week after pro-democracy candidates won a landslide victory in local elections. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam is regarded by protestors as a Beijing puppet and after last weekend’s vote offered no concessions to the victors, merely acknowledging “deficiencies in governance, including unhappiness with the time taken to deal with the unstable environment.”

A wealthy banking and finance hub, Hong Kong has seen around six months of protests and almost 6,000 arrests, first against a bill allowing extradition to mainland China and later against increasing Chinese influence over the former British colony. When the UK relinquished control of Hong Kong in 1997, the terms of the withdrawal stipulated that Hong Kong would enjoy significant autonomy from China’s ruling communists.

Sunday’s protests came after thousands had gathered in the city during midweek to mark Thanksgiving, after United States President Donald Trump signed legislation aimed at protecting protestors. On Sunday, some demonstrators wore hats and shirts with Trump insignia and waved banners imploring the president to “please liberate Hong Kong” and “President Trump – let’s make Hong Kong great again.”

China has accused the United States of backing the protests and last week summoned the American ambassador in Beijing for a reprimand. In what was likely a further retaliation for Trump’s endorsement of the protests, over the weekend Beijing proposed tough new terms for talks aimed at ending the “trade war” between the two superpowers. A separate, smaller crowd on Sunday again marched to the U.S. consulate to thank the Americans for their support.

Elsewhere the use of teargas and pepper spray sent hundreds of protestors running for cover along the city’s waterfront, and, in a signal of deteriorating trust between police and public, images disseminated Sunday afternoon via messaging apps and social media at first purported to show police carrying cans of insecticide, presumably to use in place of pepper spray on protestors. The cans later were shown to be fire extinguishers.

Hong Kong police have stirred animosity with their sometimes heavy-handed response to the protests, while elements among the protestors have been accused of violence. Also doing the rounds on social media was video of a protestor assaulting a man who attempted to remove a protest barricade on Saturday night, as police fired tear gas in the Mong Kok district of the city. That video was authentic, local police said.

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