After disrupting traffic early on Monday, they filled public parks and squares in several districts, refusing to disperse even as police repeatedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets from above.
While previous large rallies over the past two months of anti-government protests have generally been held on weekends, Monday’s strike paralysed city operations in an effort to draw more attention to the movement’s demands.
Hong Kong is on “the verge of a very dangerous situation”, said Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who insisted that she has no plans to resign.
Lam said at a news conference that the protests had “ulterior motives” that threaten Hong Kong’s prosperity and security.
“I don’t think at this point in time, resignation of myself or some of my colleagues would provide a better solution,” she said.
Protesters challenged law enforcement in at least eight districts, responding to continuous rounds of tear gas with practised swiftness.
They lobbed the canisters back at police and yelled invectives. When police arrived, the protesters clacked their umbrellas together and pounded on metal street signs, daring the officers to move closer.
“Gangsters!” they jeered at the riot police. “Reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our time.”
In one neighbourhood after nightfall, a band of men wielding wooden poles charged protesters from behind a thin road lane divider.
The demonstrators fought back by throwing traffic cones, metal barricades and rods.
Hong Kong media also reported a brawl in a different district where men with knives slashed at protesters.
In another neighbourhood, demonstrators besieged police headquarters in what they called a “flash mob”. They threw bricks and flaming bottles at the building before rapidly retreating.
The violence followed a day of striking that sparked bedlam throughout the city. Protesters started early, with the aim of hampering the morning rush hour.
In the subway, they blocked train and platform doors, activated emergency alarms and threw objects on to the tracks.
A high number of strikers in the airline industry also led to more than 77 flight cancellations, according to the airport authority.
“Too much,” said 52-year-old John Chan, whose flight to Singapore was cancelled. “Why do they have to create trouble for people not involved in their cause? Hong Kong is sinking. The government, police and protest people have to stop fighting and give us a break.”
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