(CNSNews.com) – The protests that have roiled Hong Kong for the past ten weeks took an uglier turn Sunday as police officers – including some allegedly posing as protesters – clashed violently with demonstrators, in an apparent shift in tactics as authorities step up attempts to snuff them out.
Characterized by teargas and batons, the sometimes bloody confrontations came amid signs of growing frustration among authorities in the territory, and their overseers in Beijing, that the protests first sparked by a now-suspended extradition bill have not fizzled out.
Dozens of protesters were arrested on Sunday, and video clips posted online showed police officers firing teargas and using batons to beat protesters inside the enclosed space of a subway station.
Police accused protesters of blocking traffic, throwing pelting police with stones and other objects – including on at least three occasions, petrol bombs – and using laser pointers to distract officers.
Video and still images also showed men in black civilian clothing, wearing protective helmets and gasmasks favored by many protesters, making arrests and pinning authentic protesters to the ground.
One clip, captured by Hong Kong Free Press, showed a protester, face bleeding, being held down at length by two men, one in police uniform, the other dressed to look like a protester. The protester apologized and offered no resistance, but the men kept his face pressed into a pool of his own blood.
Rumors circulating in Hong Kong in recent days prompted the territory’s police force to issue two statements last week, one denying reports that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) personnel have been deployed to assist the police, and the other dismissing a claim “that some mainlanders have secretly joined the Hong Kong Police Force for reinforcement.”
The police called the rumors “unfounded,” and complete fabrications designed to confuse the public.
Although handed back to China in 1997, the former British colony was promised at least 50 years of relative autonomy under a “one country, two systems” agreement negotiated between Beijing and London.
A proposal by its Beijing-backed government led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam to pass regulations permitting criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland for trial triggered protests in early June. Lam eventually suspended the move, but protesters want it withdrawn completely.
Stated grievances have broadened to incorporate concerns about an erosion of democracy, with protesters’ demands include Lam’s resignation, and an inquiry into police violence against demonstrators.
Chinese officials and state media outlets continue to accuse the U.S. and Britain of stoking the protests, with regular references to a foreign “black hand” behind the unrest.
A column Friday in the People’s Daily, a Communist Party organ, lashed out at “anti-China clowns” like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for calling on President Trump to exert pressure on Beijing over the protests.
“The U.S. administration has played a disgraceful role in the Hong Kong riots,” opined the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times, pointing to a recent meeting between a diplomat at the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong and a Hong Kong opposition figure.
“The U.S. administration is instigating turmoil in Hong Kong the way it stoked ‘color revolutions’ in other places worldwide,” it charged, accusing the U.S. of “dirty tricks” tactics.
“As Hong Kong’s patriotic groups bravely stand out with the support of central government, conspiracy will be smashed, turmoil will be ended and rioters will be punished by law,” the paper warned.
The State Department criticized pro-Beijing media for identifying the U.S. diplomat who met with the pro-democracy activist – revealing her personal and family details, including names of her children.
“Releasing any of that personal information of an American diplomat is completely unacceptable,” department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told a briefing. “That’s not a protest. That’s what a thuggish regime does, and it’s unacceptable.”
Ortagus said the diplomat had been doing her job – “what American diplomats do every single day around the world.”
Beijing’s foreign ministry said earlier the U.S. consulate should “immediately make a clean break with various anti-China rioters.”