Hong Kong: Police fire pepper spray as activists mark Tiananmen Square crackdown

4 June 2020, 14:40 | Updated: 4 June 2020, 19:16

Police have fired pepper spray at Hong Kong protesters who were defying a ban to stage candlelit rallies in memory of China's 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy crackdown.

Hong Kong had banned the annual vigil, due to be held today, for the first time in 30 years because it violates coronavirus lockdown rules stopping gatherings of more than eight people.

However, scuffles broke out in the working-class Mong Kok district in Kowloon, northern Hong Kong, when demonstrators tried to set up roadblocks with metal barriers.

Officers used pepper spray to disperse the protesters, who accused Beijing of stifling their freedoms, and several people were arrested.

Hong Kong police tweeted that "some black-clad protesters are blocking roads in Mong Kok. Police officers are now making arrests."

They urged people not to gather in groups because of the coronavirus.

Several thousand people joined the main rally in Victoria Park, with groups of protesters dressed in black carrying flags and chanting slogans such as "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time" and "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong".

Security around Tiananmen Square, a tourist attraction in the heart of Beijing, appeared to be tightened, with more police visible in anticipation of protests.

Attracting huge crowds to an outdoor space each year, the vigil marks the deadly military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in the square on 4 June 1989.

Some 31 years ago, hundreds and possibly thousands of people were killed when tanks and troops moved in to break up weeks of student-led protests that had spread to other cities and were seen as a threat to Communist Party rule.

Zhou Fengsuo, a student leader during the Tiananmen Square protests, told Kay Burley @ Breakfast that most of the survivors live outside of China today and are "still afraid to talk about it".

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The anniversary has struck an especially sensitive nerve in the former British-ruled city of Hong Kong after legislators there passed a law earlier on Thursday making it a crime to disrespect China's national anthem.

The law was passed despite pro-democracy politicians disrupting proceedings twice to try to prevent the vote - they see the bill as an infringement on freedom of expression.

Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, said: "The ban comes amid an alarming acceleration of attacks on the autonomy of Hong Kong and the undermining of the rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people guaranteed under Hong Kong and international law."

The ban also comes as Chinese media and some Beijing officials have voiced support for protests in the US against police brutality.