Hundreds of black-clad protesters armed with bamboo poles and baseball bats fought with police officers wielding batons on a main road following a march against "smart lampposts" that was sparked by surveillance fears.

Riot police are pictured during a protest in Hong Kong, China on August 24, 2019.
Riot police are pictured during a protest in Hong Kong, China on August 24, 2019. (Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters)

Hong Kong protesters cut down a "smart lamppost" as they skirmished with police on Saturday, and officers fired tear gas at demonstrators as chaotic scenes returned to the summer-long protests for the first time in more than a week.

Protesters used an electric saw to slice through the bottom of the lamppost, while others pulled ropes tied around it. The demonstrators, who were holding up umbrellas to hide their identities, cheered as it toppled over.

They were part of a larger group marching to demand the removal of the lampposts over worries they could contain high-tech cameras and facial recognition software used for surveillance by Chinese authorities.

The government in Hong Kong, which has been convulsed by more than two months of sometimes violent protests, said smart lampposts only collect data on traffic, weather and air quality.

The semi-autonomous Chinese city has said it plans to install about 400 of the smart lampposts in four urban districts, starting with 50 this summer in the Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay districts that were the scene of Saturday's protest march.

TRT World spoke to journalist Bruce Harrison for more.

'We have to be concerned'

"Hong Kong people's private information is already being extradited to China. We have to be very concerned," organizer Ventus Lau said ahead of the procession.

Police fired tear gas for the first time in more than a week after black-clad protesters set up makeshift barricades on a road outside a police station. Officers used minimum force to disperse the protesters after repeated warnings "went futile," the government said in a statement.

Protesters threw bricks and gasoline bombs as police chased them down a main road.

The tear gas gradually drove back hundreds of protesters along a main road in the city's Kowloon Bay area.

Each tear gas volley sent the protesters scampering in retreat before they took position again farther down the road.

The front-line protesters wore bright yellow helmets and gas masks with pink filters and tried to douse the fallen tear gas canisters with water.

After weeks of escalating violence, the protests were relatively peaceful last weekend.

The protest marched had started peacefully as supporters chanted slogans calling for the government to answer the movement's demands.

The protests began in June with calls to drop an extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to China to stand trial, and widened to include free elections for the city's top leader and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

Hong Kong's government-owned subway system operator, MTR Corp., shut down stations and suspended train service near the protest route, after attacks by Chinese state media accusing it of helping protesters flee in previous protests.

MTR said Friday that it may close stations near protests under high risk or emergency situations.

The company has until now kept stations open and trains running even when there have been chaotic skirmishes between protesters and police.

Lau said MTR was working with the government to "suppress freedom of expression."

British Conulate employee released

Also on Saturday, Chinese police said they released an employee at the British Consulate in Hong Kong as scheduled after 15 days of administrative detention.

Simon Cheng Man-kit was detained for violating mainland Chinese law and "confessed to his illegal acts," the public security bureau in Luohu, Shenzhen, said on its Weibo microblog account, without providing further details.

The Chinese government has said that Cheng, who went missing after travelling by train to mainland China for a business trip, was held for violating public order regulations in Shenzhen, in a case that further stoked tensions in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

The British government confirmed his release.

"We welcome the release of Simon Cheng and are delighted that he can be reunited with his family," the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement, adding that Cheng and his family had requested privacy.

Cheng, a Scottish government trade and investment officer, was a local employee without a diplomatic passport.

The Global Times, a Communist Party-owned nationalistic tabloid, said Thursday he was detained for "soliciting prostitutes." China often uses public order charges against political targets and has sometimes used the accusation of soliciting prostitution.

Source: AP