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How did one of the safest cities in the world fall into violence?

While a city of seven million will have a crime, the violence is extremely common. About 2600 violent crimes were registered by the police during the first four months of this year compared to over 70,000 cases of violence against the person in the metropolitan area of ​​London, a similar big city.

During the same period, there were only 29 robberies in Hong Kong, while London saw more than 12,500.

Even in mass protests and marches, which is an important part of Hong Kong's political culture, the mood has almost always been peaceful and safe. The umbrella movement in 2014 was an example of this attitude, with protesters setting up recycling stations, internet cafes and art installations in the main occupied areas and parents with small children and businessmen visiting them during lunchtime and on weekends.

The use of tear gas and pepper spray by Hong Kong police during the early hours of the 201

4 protests in a failed attempt to clear the crowds caused shock and uproar and inspired more people to enter the streets. The policing of the rest of the three-month occupation was much more measured, and protesters were not completely cleared until the time and fatigue had thinned their joints.

Wednesday's scenes could not have been more different.

Police fired around for grated tear gas, much of it without warning, and put pipette spray and rubber balls on protesters who would not move. Videos showed police on several occasions pulling unprotected protesters to the ground and beating them with batons, and CNN saw police pistols beating rubber bullets on journalists and returning protests.

Police and authorities described Wednesday's protests – which broke out as a very controversial extradition bill with China due to having their second reading in the legislature – as a riot, saying they were handled accordingly by officers in heavy protective gear and gas masks.

"These riots, which harm social peace and ignore the law, are unacceptable in all civilized societies that respect the rule of law," said Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam.

  A policeman kicks tear gas during conflicts with protesters during a rally against a controversial extradition proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. A policeman kicks tear gas during conflicts with protesters during a rally against a controversial extradition bill outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019.

Descent into violence

For several hours early on Wednesday, it seemed like a repetition of the umbrella movement. Protesters had taken control of the main roads around the legislature and put on bedding, established first aid and distributed food, water and tear.

Legislators made speeches to the audience and congratulated them for standing up to the government and police – which seemed to be completely misguided by the speed at which protesters took over roads and blocked the legislative complex.

"This hardened to a display of people's power in Hong Kong, a screen especially the power of young people," said opposition lawyer Claudia Mo to the tens of thousands who had gathered to large bowl.

"You are right … the young have every right to express their feelings, their anger, their frustration, their anger in any way they want, for this is their Hong Kong, their future."

When she did that, the people's density and determination of protesters meant that only a high degree of force would be enough to clear them, as the experience of the later days of the umbrella performance proved less likely with the police less willing to force a confrontation. by trying to clear the roads.

But the police tactics this week were completely different than five years ago. Far from retreating, heavily armed insurrectional corps in Admiralty converged, as protesters tried to push barricades further toward legislators and state buildings.

After protesters rushed Tim Wa Avenue, the road leading up to the building's entrance, the police kicked their first tear gas containers. Faster followed, even though protesters could occupy the street and trap many officers inside the government complex.

Reinforcements came in hard, shooting tear gas and pepper spray before charging protesters with batons. In public statements on Wednesday, state officials said protesters threw bricks and sharpened poles, but CNN saw only umbrellas, plastic bottles and plastic protective helmets used as projectiles.

Clearance operations continued for hours to night, which meant that a large part of the city center stops, with large metro stations and roads either closed or delimited due to tear gas floors.

At least 79 people were injured in the conflicts, several seriously, compared to about 40 in the first night of the 2014 protests, none of which were seriously injured.

At a Thursday night press conference, police commissioner Steven Lo Wai-chung in Hong Kong said 11 people were arrested during Wednesday's protests due to disorderly behavior in a public place, illegal composition and assault on a police force.

He said 22 police injuries during the protests, but it is not clear whether 79 injured include the number of police injured.

Lo said protesters acted violently in an organized manner using bricks and sharpened metal poles to attack the police. "We had no choice but to escalate the use of force," Lo said. "We strongly condemn the violent behavior of the crime of violence."

  Police fire non-lethal projectiles during violent conflicts with protesters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019.

Break from the norm

Violence seen on Wednesday has shocked Hong Kong, especially video footage of police shooting rounds in the point blank area, and striking demonstrators on the ground, a visual reminder of many fear has about what can happen if the city loses what freedom it has to Beijing.

However, the more aggressive tactics of young protesters compared to 2014 – almost all who were masked and protected from tear gas and pepper spray – have also suffered some criticism, especially from the pro-government sectors, and reinforced Lams claim they had started a riot.

Unthinkable, the protests took the fight against the police more than they did in 2014, but compared to scenes from Paris or Catalonia, where demonstrations were also subjected to very heavy police work, they were much less destructive and aggressive towards officers.

While the Hong Kong government accused protesters of "setting fire (and) damaging nearby public premises," CNN reporters saw no evidence of this through the protests. No cars or tires were burned, and protesters were careful to keep the sites clean, even set up recycling stations.

Fred was restored on Thursday, but with the government refusing to back down the extradition bill and the protesters decided to stop it, it remains to be seen how long it will be.

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