HONG KONG — Several districts of Hong Kong were again convulsed by mass demonstrations and street clashes on Sunday, amid concerns that local gangsters might try to assault protesters in a reprise of earlier violence.
The prospect of further street brawls between civilians lent a heightened sense of danger and uncertainty to protests that have continued for 10 consecutive weekends, prompted by fears about the erosion of civil liberties under Beijing’s rule in the semiautonomous Chinese territory.
Sunday’s civil disobedience began in the afternoon in Victoria Park, down the road from North Point, a traditionally pro-Communist neighborhood that has long been a stronghold for immigrants from the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian.
The rally, on Hong Kong Island, was authorized in advance by the police, and protesters had been expected to march east to North Point, the site of a mob attack last week. There was a heavy police presence in North Point on Sunday, and many stores there were shuttered.
But as the Victoria Park rally ended, many protesters instead headed west on a major thoroughfare, bringing traffic to a halt and leaving their next moves unclear.
“We no longer demonstrate based on a schedule, which I think works well,” said Dominic Chan, 26, a protester who works in retail. “We spread to different places, because every arrest means one less protester in the field.”
A few protesters later stopped at a square on the island’s waterfront whose main attraction is a golden statue of a bauhinia flower, an emblem of the city, and spray-painted the ground below with graffiti.
Others tried to approach the headquarters of the Hong Kong police, a target of earlier demonstrations, then retreated as officers charged at them and fired tear gas. The police said that protesters had thrown gasoline bombs and aimed laser pointers at officers in the area.
Officers also fired tear gas on Sunday at other groups of protesters in Sham Shui Po and Tsim Sha Tsui, two neighborhoods on the Kowloon peninsula, across the harbor from Hong Kong Island. The police had earlier rejected an application by protesters to hold a march there.
Video from Sham Shui Po showed police officers in riot gear charging at protesters and tackling one of them to the ground. The police said in a statement that protesters had been hurling bricks at officers, “posing a threat to the safety of everyone at scene.”
The protests began two months ago in opposition to legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where the courts are controlled by the ruling Communist Party.
They have since spiraled into Hong Kong’s worst political crisis since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, with protesters demanding the resignation of Hong Kong’s embattled chief executive, Carrie Lam, and demonstrations regularly ending in clashes with the police.
One of the movement’s biggest events this summer was last Monday, when a general strike and set of protest rallies disrupted businesses and transportation in a city known for its order and efficiency. That evening, a group of black-clad protesters were briefly attacked in North Point by men wearing white shirts and wielding sticks. Those men were widely believed to be members of local Fujianese gangs, although no conclusive proof of that has emerged.
The police made 148 arrests during the general strike on Monday, though they did not specify how many were linked to the North Point violence.
Ng Wun-yim, the chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations, told reporters on Saturday that the associations had played no part in the street brawl on Monday, and that he had urged local Fujianese people to be “calm, restrained and not impulsive.”
“We don’t want to see violence,” he said. “Hong Kong is a civilized society.”
Still, one of his colleagues, Lo Man-tuen, said that local Fujianese would not hesitate to defend themselves if provoked.
The mob attack last week was reminiscent of another clash on July 21, in which a pro-Beijing mob beat protesters and bystanders in Yuen Long, a satellite town in northwestern Hong Kong that is not far from the Chinese mainland. North Point residents have been on edge since the fight on Monday, with stores closing early the next day amid rumors of further gang violence.
On Sunday, red banners around North Point urging Fujianese to “protect” their home had been plastered around the neighborhood, apparently by local residents.
Scuffles broke out in the neighborhood during the evening between some Fujianese men and journalists who were trying to film them.
There had been panic and widespread disruption in the city on Saturday as protesters hopscotched around the Kowloon side and the police fired tear gas in several locations. Smaller groups of demonstrators blocked a vital cross-harbor tunnel, barricaded a traffic intersection and set fires outside a police station in the Tsim Sha Tsui district.