HONG KONG — Hundreds of protesters surrounded a police station in Hong Kong on Tuesday, some scuffling with officers, after the authorities said they had charged dozens of people with rioting over clashes with the police days earlier.
The rioting charges were a distinct escalation in the government’s response to protests that have shaken Hong Kong for weeks. The rallies began over a proposal, since shelved, that would allow extraditions to mainland China, but have since grown to include a variety of grievances including a lack of direct elections and the police’s use of force with demonstrators.
On Monday, officials in Beijing expressed support for Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong leader, and signaled that they expected her government to resolve the political crisis.
The charges will most likely add to the public anger. The government said Tuesday evening that 44 people who were arrested Sunday night had been accused of rioting. In addition, a 33-year-old man would also be charged with assaulting a police officer, and a 24-year-old man was charged with possession of offensive weapons.
Rioting carries a prison term of up to 10 years.
As news of the charges spread, hundreds of people dressed in black, the color of the protest movement, gathered around Kwai Chung Police Station, where the suspects were being held. The police told the crowds to disperse and used pepper spray against some demonstrators.
“I feel very unhappy,” said Jax Liu, a 21-year-old computer technician who went to the police station to support the arrested protesters. “I can’t accept that the one making the mistake was the government, but we are those who get punished.”
Around 11 p.m., a small number of officers came out of the station to confront protesters, including one police officer holding a shotgun that he pointed at some of those gathered, but he did not fire. The gun did not have the distinct orange color of those the police have been using to fire rubber bullets at protesters, raising fears they were deploying more lethal weapons.
A police spokeswoman said she had no immediate information about the incident.
The confrontations quieted after officers went back inside the station. Those charged were released throughout the evening, with about 10 people still held at 1 a.m.
The clashes Sunday night were a tumultuous end to a weekend of protests in Hong Kong. Police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at hundreds who had gathered around the Chinese government’s representative office in the city. A week earlier, protesters painted graffiti on the building, known as the liaison office, and threw ink and eggs at the Chinese national crest over the entrance, acts that were widely condemned by mainland officials.
The protest on Sunday began in the Central district, with a gathering that had been authorized by the police. It then broke out into unauthorized marches, with thousands walking to the commercial district of Causeway Bay, where demonstrators set up barricades. Others gathered near the liaison office, where riot officers appeared determined to prevent the building from being surrounded.
The police fired tear gas around 7 p.m., sending protesters and bystanders alike into a dense urban district of apartment buildings and shops. Officers continued using tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators for hours, pushing them back for more than a mile through the city center.
The police said that protesters had thrown bricks, wielded sharpened poles and pushed a cart of burning material toward their lines. Barriers made from sidewalk railings and trash cans were left at intersections across the heart of the city. Tourists and residents watched the confrontations bewildered, as the police urged them to clear the streets.
Officers beat some protesters with batons and shields, and at least 16 people were wounded, hospital officials said.
The police were noticeably more aggressive about grabbing protesters and had detained at least 49 by Monday morning. They included 32 men and 17 women, aged 16 to 41. Two were temporarily released, while another two were granted bail pending further investigation, the authorities said. Those charged were expected to appear in court Wednesday morning.