Police used tear gas on pro-democracy protesters on Sunday in Hong Kong and threatened to use more aggressive methods in dispersing demonstrators that numbered in the tens of thousands, who had paralyzed a key section of the semi-autonomous territory of China.
Police dressed in fatigues and holding large rifles paced the streets close to the local government headquarters.
Other police officers occasionally succeeded in pushing back protesters, many of whom had raised their arms in a sign of peaceful intent.
During one point of the protests, the police hoisted a banner that read Leave or we will have to open fire. Although it was not clear if they were referring to the officers intending to shoot rubber bullets, tear gas or something else.
Vehicular traffic was at a standstill and dozens of bus routes had to be diverted as huge crowds filled the roadways. The canisters of tear gas sent a number of protesters running, but the crowds were quick to re-gather and as nightfall came, the situation was still very tense.
One leader of the protests said that Hong Kong’s people wanted freedom and democracy. Many protesters wore goggles and had umbrellas to protect themselves from any pepper spray or tear gas being shot at them.
A deadline was issued by leaders of the protest for Sunday midnight for the top official of the city Leung Chun-ying to address the demands they have of open and free elections.
They also were demanding that Leung, who is backed by Beijing and some aides resign and the government reopen a plaza to the public with the compound occupied by the government to allow for future protests.
The area referred to as the Civic Plaza, was closed off following prior demonstrations.
Over 70 people thus far have been arrested in the past three days, including three legislators who on Sunday were detained after they helped deliver audio equipment to the protesters.
Tension over the rules for the 2017 election for the city’s chief executive had been building for quite some time. Hong Kong was a British colony that was returned to the Chinese in 1997 under an agreement referred to as one country, two systems.