Police in Hong Kong arrested 19 people in overnight clashes at the tail end of a peaceful, million-strong demonstration against plans to allow extradition to mainland China, as the authorities stepped up security around the city's Legislative Council (LegCo).
Police fired pepper spray and tear gas at several hundred protesters who gathered outside LegCo in the early hours of Monday, beating some with batons during the clashes, photos and video from the scene showed.
Senior superintendent Lee Kwai-wah of the city's Organized Crime and Triad Bureau said they believed there had some involvement from criminal gangs, or triads, in the clash.
"I can tell you that organized crime was involved, so we will carry out a unified investigation involving the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau," Lee told reporters.
"If we have the evidence in these cases, we don't rule out the possibility of further action, including prosecution," he said.
Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung confirmed that police had used pepper spray, batons, and tear gas in the clashes.
"But as to why there was smoke at the scene, we don't know," he said following media questions. "I don't think it came from the police."
Police Commissioner Stephen Lo condemned the violence, which he said lhad eft at least three officers and one journalist injured.
He blamed the violence on "radical protesters" who chose to try to occupy LegCo later in the evening, using metal traffic barriers to attack officers in the process.
"This is not freedom of speech. This is not expressing opinions," Lo told reporters. "Why were all of these people wearing face-masks? So they wouldn't be recognized in the process of breaking the law."
"I will watch video footage of the entire incident, including that recorded by our friends in the media, and we will pursue the people who took part in the violence to the fullest extent," Lo said.
Ignoring public anger
The government has vowed to resume the second reading of the amended Fugitive Offenders Ordinance in LegCo on Wednesday as scheduled, in spite of the massive show of public anger over plans to allow extradition to China at Beijing's request with no meaningful judicial oversight.
Pan-democratic lawmakers blamed the government for sparking the violence by issuing a statement standing by the amendments before all the protesters had left the scene on Sunday.
The violence broke out shortly after the statement was issued.
March co-organizers the Civil Human Rights Front said they will organise a rally outside LegCo whenever it is scheduled to discuss the bill, and welcomed plans from some shops and businesses to strike in protest on Wednesday.
"Even though 1.03 million people took part in the demonstration, chief executive Carrie Lam issued a statement within one hour of its finishing, sending this kind of a message," the group's convenor Jimmy Sham told reporters.
"Young people feel utterly powerless in such a society," he said.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated the ruling Chinese Communist Party's support for the planned extradition law, and blamed "external forces" for inciting the mass rally.
"Firstly, the central government will continue to firmly support the work of the Hong Kong government in promoting the revision of [extradition and asset-freezing laws]," Geng told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
"Secondly, we firmly oppose the wrong words and deeds of external forces intervening in the legislative affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region," he said.
In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said the United States is "concerned by the Hong Kong government's proposed amendments to its Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which would allow for individuals to be transferred to mainland China at the request of Communist Party authorities, and is closely monitoring the situation."
"Societies are best served when diverse political views are respected and can be freely expressed," the spokesperson said in a statement. "Continued erosion of the 'One country, Two systems' framework puts at risk Hong Kong's long-established special status in international affairs."
As an estimated 1.03 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong in a massive outpouring of public anger, the city's government reiterated its determination to get the proposed amendments to the extradition law through the legislature.
Critics fear the planned amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which will likely be waved through by a pro-Beijing majority in LegCo, pose a huge threat to Hong Kong's way of life, which was supposed to have been protected under the "one country, two systems" framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.
The government's planned legal amendment—which the ruling Chinese Communist Party wants implemented "urgently"—has sparked widespread fear that the city will lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction, and that rights activists and dissidents in the city could be targeted by Beijing for actions deemed illegal across the internal border.
Judges, lawyers, opposition politicians, rights activists, business groups, and journalists have all expressed vocal opposition to the plan, which will allow China to request the extradition of an alleged suspect from Hong Kong based on the standards of evidence that currently apply in its own courts.
The most likely jurisdiction to use the proposed provision is mainland China, which currently has no formal extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and Lam has tried to reassure people that legal safeguards will be used to safeguard the rights of suspects.
But lawyers, who last week staged a silent protest at the planned amendments, say the government's supposed safeguards are meaningless.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long and Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.