Pro-democracy protesters stepped up on Wednesday a “blossom everywhere” campaign of road blocks and vandalism across Hong Kong that has crippled the international financial hub this week and ignited some of the worst violence in five months of unrest. The new phase in the crisis, which has forced schools and shopping malls to close as well as the shutdown of large chunks of the vital train network, prompted police to warn on Tuesday the city was “on the brink of total collapse”.
China, facing the biggest challenge to its rule of the territory since it was handed back by the British in 1997, has insisted it will not buckle to the pressure and warned of tougher security measures.
On Wednesday, commuters across many parts of the city woke to the increasingly familiar scenario of roads choked with bricks, bicycles, couches and other materials that had been laid out by the protesters overnight to block traffic.
Various lines on the subway, used by more than half of the city’s 7.5 million people daily, were also suspended due to vandalism, forcing many workers to stay at home.
Meanwhile, masked protesters dressed in their signature black were locked in a series of tense standoffs at university campuses following battles on Tuesday that continued through the night with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
The chaos was part of the largely anonymous protest movement’s new strategy of “blossom everywhere”, in which small groups of people target as many parts of the city as possible to cause maximum disruption and stretch police resources.
Protesters had until this week largely confined their actions to evenings and the weekends. The campaign began with an effort to shut down the train network and enforce a city-wide strike on Monday. The already tense atmosphere escalated on Monday when a police officer shot an unarmed 21-year-old protester, leaving him in a critical condition.
It was only the third confirmed time a police officer had shot someone with live bullets since the unrest began in June. A masked person on Monday then doused a 57-year-old man, who had been arguing with protesters, with a flammable liquid and set him on fire. He was also hospitalised in a critical condition.
The protest movement has been fuelled by fears that China is choking the liberties and freedoms Hong Kong is meant to have under the terms of the handover deal with the British.
Protesters are demanding the right to freely elect their leaders. But instead of offering concessions, China has responded with ominous warnings that it is prepared to further curb freedoms, and that it wants tougher security measures in Hong Kong.