HONG KONG — Riot police fired tear gas in a major shopping district in Hong Kong on Sunday as tens of thousands of protesters marched toward government offices demanding greater political accountability two days before China was to celebrate 70 years of Communist rule.
Sunday’s demonstrations were notable because they illustrated an open defiance of Beijing’s rule ahead of National Day, a sensitive holiday for the country’s governing Communist Party.
The protesters see the anniversary as a chance to broadcast their resentment of Beijing’s growing influence over life and politics in their semiautonomous Chinese city. The movement has roiled Hong Kong for 17 straight weekends, often boiling over into clashes between the police and protesters, but the authorities are under pressure to keep a lid on the unrest that threatens to overshadow China’s official celebrations on Tuesday.
Protesters had begun gathering in the Causeway Bay shopping district on Hong Kong’s main island early on Sunday afternoon. Several dozens chanted “dirty cops” at riot police officers, and at least one protester was detained.
Zoe Wong, a 19-year-old student who was among the shouting protesters, said it was important for the group to speak up now, particularly against what they see as a pattern of police brutality against demonstrators over the past several months.
“It’s an anti-totalitarian movement — the Hong Kong government has done a lot of bad things, if we don’t come out now, we may not have another chance,” Ms. Wong said. “We have less hope, but we still need to stand up for our rights.”
The police first fired pepper spray, then multiple rounds of tear gas, sending protesters — and shoppers with bags — fleeing through small side streets. Many then began marching toward government offices, turning a main road into a sea of black-clad protesters. “We want real universal suffrage,” some of them shouted, in a call for expanded direct elections of the city’s leader and lawmakers.
On the Kowloon Peninsula, across Hong Kong’s harbor, dozens of protesters also gathered at Festival Walk, a mall complex in the Kowloon Tong neighborhood. Many shouted “Reclaim Hong Kong; revolution of our times,” one of movement’s signature slogans, and sang “Glory to Hong Kong,” its unofficial anthem.
Bill Yeung, a 53-year-old taxi driver, was among the chorus of protesters who stood near the edge of an atrium at the mall. Mr. Yeung said he showed up because he has been alarmed by the slow erosion of Hong Kong’s cherished liberties.
“We want to reclaim our city — restore democracy, rule of law and the freedoms we previously enjoyed here,” he said.
Because neither event had police approval, both were technically ”illegal assemblies” under Hong Kong law.
In an apparent sign of how sensitive Sunday’s gatherings were for the authorities, scores of police in full riot gear arrived hours before the protesters in Causeway Bay. That contrasted with the police force’s typical approach over the summer, which was to allow protesters to gather for a while — sometimes hours — before dispersing them with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.
The Causeway Bay demonstration unfolded near a downtown park where hundreds of pro-Beijing supporters had gathered hours earlier to sing China’s national anthem and wave national flags.
Sunday’s demonstrations came a day after tens of thousands of protesters rallied in a downtown park to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the start of the Umbrella Movement, a pro-democracy campaign that is widely seen as a precursor to the current demonstrations that have roiled Hong Kong.
Dozens of rallies in solidarity with the city’s protest movement were scheduled to be held on Sunday by human rights activists across Asia, Europe and North America.
“For many of us, even though we have left Hong Kong, our roots and hearts are there,” said Mabel Tung, 64, one of the organizers of a march in Vancouver. “So when Hong Kong is in trouble, we want to help save it.”
The protests in Hong Kong this weekend presented a sharp contrast to the atmosphere in Beijing, where the Communist Party of China is preparing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its rule on Tuesday with pomp and pageantry.
Specifically, President Xi is scheduled to preside over a military parade in central Beijing that will pass through Tiananmen Square — the site of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 that were crushed by the military — and involve 15,000 soldiers and sailors, 160 fighter jets, bombers and other aircraft, and 580 tanks and other weapons.
The Chinese government has been in a state of high alert ahead of the parade, taking extraordinary measures to ensure that the pageantry goes to plan — stationing armed police on street corners, for example, and temporarily evicting a New York Times journalist from his apartment.
The Hong Kong government said on Sunday that Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, would lead a delegation of more than 240 people to Beijing on Monday to celebrate the holiday.