Hong Kong police are marking protestors with blue dye shot from water cannons

A stain on Hong Kong.
A stain on Hong Kong.
Image: Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis
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Today (Aug. 31) marks the 13th week of protests in Hong Kong and the five-year anniversary of a decision that sparked 2014’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, making the date especially poignant. Protesters took to the streets, despite being denied a permit to rally, and—as ever—police were present to meet them.

The clashes between demonstrators and authorities were violent, with some protestors throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails, and cops responding with tear gas, beatings, and even shots. Police have fired at least one live round of bullets into the air as a warning to protesters, the South China Morning Post reports, a development that was unheard of until last Sunday, when an officer fired a live round skyward after being chased and beaten by protesters wielding iron poles.

In another new development, police today also marked protesters with blue-dyed water shot from cannons, making demonstrators easy to spot for possible arrest later (or worried they will be). The dye, which has not been used against protestors until today, left the streets awash in blue.

However, as Hong Kong-based Quartz reporter Mary Hui noted on Twitter, the protestors are arming themselves with baking soda and alcoholic wipes, and leaving such cleanup supplies in public locations.

The demonstrations first began in opposition to a Chinese extradition bill, which has since been shelved but not scrapped altogether. But they quickly evolved, with protestors reviving the demands of the earlier Umbrella Movement and calling for genuinely democratic elections for the city’s leadership. Hong Kong is led by a chief executive—currently Carrie Lam—who is elected from a restricted pool of candidates (all supporting China’s central government) by a 1,200-member committee, an electoral college of private citizens, and certain special interest groups. Protestors want genuinely democratic leadership based on their votes, and their demonstrations have now outlasted the earlier Umbrella Movement.

So far, there’s no sign that Hong Kong will see peace anytime soon. Protestors are growing bolder, while police increasingly use violent tactics to attempt to control the demonstrations. After midnight Hong Kong time, the conflict was still going strong, and Lam condemned police for attacking and beating passengers inside a train at a station. Around the same time, outside the Mong Kok police station, demonstrators tore down netting surrounding the building, exposing officers in riot gear who stood behind the curtain guarding it.

The blue dye may soon be washed off the streets and protestors, but it’s evident that the stain on Hong Kong from this summer of discontent will remain for some time.