Hong Kong police fire tear gas as thousands rally in ongoing anti-China protests

Hong Kong police have fired tear gas at a public park that was overflowing with thousands of protesters continuing to call for electoral reforms and a boycott of the Chinese Communist Party.

Rally participants packed into Chater Garden on Sunday, not far from the city’s Legislative Council building.

Hong Kong police gave approval for the rally, but not for a march that organisers were also planning.

The pro-democracy, anti-China protests have been ongoing since June. Credit: AP

The group, holdings signs that read “Free Hong Kong,” used bricks, umbrellas and traffic barriers to barricade a road.

They ran for cover after riot police appeared around Chater Garden and raised yellow warning flags, telling demonstrators that they should disperse because they were participating in an illegal assembly.

In a statement, police said two officers were bleeding from the head after a group of "rioters" attacked them with wooden sticks, adding that some also threw water bottles and other objects at law enforcement.

British and American flags were waved at the rally. Credit: Ng Han Guan/AP

A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997.

While the framework of “one country, two systems” promises the territory greater democratic rights than are afforded to the mainland, protesters say their freedoms have been steadily eroding under Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Frictions between democracy-minded Hong Kong residents and the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing came to a head last June, when proposed extradition legislation sparked months of often violent mass demonstrations.

The bill – which would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China to stand trial – has since been withdrawn, but protests have continued for eight months around demands for voting rights and an independent inquiry into police conduct.

While the protests began peacefully, they increasingly descended into violence after demonstrators became frustrated with the government’s response.

They feel that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has ignored their demands and used the police to suppress them.

Hundreds of thousands attended the annual New Year's Day march. Credit: AP

Demonstrators have routinely thrown bricks and petrol bombs at riot police, who have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and – on rare occasions – live rounds.

The months of unrest have sent the financial hub’s economy reeling, as shops have shuttered during clashes and tourists have stayed away.