Officers reportedly fired pepper spray at some protesters in Hong Kong who violated a ban on candlelight rallies marking the anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Police used pepper spray in the city’s Mongkok district to disperse hundreds protesters who were attempting to set up roadblocks with metal barriers, Reuters reported.
Officers raised a blue flag warning they would use force if protesters did not leave, according to The Associated Press. Several demonstrators were arrested, police noted.
This year marked the first unrest in Hong Kong at a Tiananmen vigil, which police had banned because of the coronavirus pandemic. Officers played recordings instructing people not to gather and saying they needed to maintain social distancing, as Hong Kong reported its first locally transmitted COVID-19 infection in weeks.
But thousands of people reportedly gathered in a peaceful rally in Victoria Park, chanting “Democracy now” and “Stand for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” Most people wore masks and respected a minute of silence at 8:09 p.m. local time.
Members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic and Democratic Movements of China, which organized the vigil, wore black shirts featuring the character for “truth,” the AP reported.
Protesters argued that officials were using the pandemic as an excuse to prohibit the vigil, according to news reports, as China has taken tougher measures to regulate Hong Kong in the past few months. On the same day as the protests, Hong Kong's legislature also passed a law classifying the disrespect of the Chinese national anthem as a crime.
The national anthem bill followed approval of a measure permitting Chinese security agents to be posted within the semi-autonomous city and after 15 activists were charged for organizing and participating in last year’s protests in Hong Kong.
The Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 resulted in the deaths of hundreds and possibly thousands of people when Chinese tanks and troops moved into the square on the night of June 3 to break up weeks of student protests against the Communist government in Beijing.
Earlier in this week, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoWhy is Trump undermining his administration's historic China policies? Keeping the world's focus on cyber State Department watchdog probing whether Trump aides took gifts meant for foreign officials MORE condemned China and Hong Kong officials for banning the vigil and met with Tiananmen Square survivors.
In the meantime, Chinese officials have said they support the protests in the U.S. over the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.