Yuen Long, the northern suburb of Hong Kong, saw more than 50,000 angry protesters gather in the streets, on Saturday, July 27. The protests were organized in response to an incident that took place one week ago in the district, when a group of thugs wearing white T-shirts, attacked nearby protesters and journalists inside a metro railway station, beating them with metal rods.

At least 45 people were inured in those attacks.

Riot police gathered quickly, on Saturday, warning the protesters that their gathering was illegal. They launched canisters of tear gas and wielded their batons as they pushed their way into the crowds. Protesters remained resilient throughout the day, however, with as many as 1,000 still gathered into the early evening.

Police identified some of the assailants in last week’s Yuen Long attacks as members of “triad gangs,” which are a group of Chinese mafia gangs based in mainland China. As reported by the South China Morning Post, many local people suspect that the thugs had been hired to attack and intimidate protesters.

Hong Kong protesters becoming more confrontational

The protests began on June 9, in response to a controversial China-extradition bill that would expand the Chinese communist government’s ability to capture and extradite criminal suspects from Hong Kong. Many in Hong Kong fear that this law could be used as a political weapon and target anyone whom China’s Communist Party views as a political opponent, and this could include democracy supporters, journalists, and human rights advocates, among others.

The seven weeks of sustained protests have become increasingly fierce over time, with protesters now showing more willingness to confront riot police. Most protesters are protecting themselves with hardhats and safety goggles, with many pushing back against police shields. On Saturday, for example, several protesters were seen picking up tear gas canisters and hurling them back at the police. 

Many in Hong Kong believe that defeating the China-extradition bill is just one step in a long-term fight to preserve basic rights and freedoms. While Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has repeatedly asserted that the proposed extradition bill is now dead, her promises have fallen on deaf ears for tens of thousands of demonstrators who continue to call for her resignation.