Dozens of Hong Kong families with young children have chanted “no more tear gas” as they marched to oppose the government’s handling of pro-democracy protests, on the eve of keenly contested local elections.
Riot police have reportedly fired more than 9,000 rounds of tear gas since protests began in June, often in crowded areas and also near schools.
With police now buying canisters from China, there are rising fears that the tear gas could release toxic chemicals including cancer-causing dioxin.
A local journalist covering the protests reportedly said he had been diagnosed with a skin condition linked to exposure to toxins including dioxin.
The government of the Chinese territory this week said there was no evidence of any health or environment risks and has refused to reveal the chemicals in the tear gas, citing operational concerns.
Sunday’s district council have emerged as a pivotal bellwether on public support for the increasingly violent protests, which have disrupted life in the financial hub for months.
There was a rare easing in violence this week as protesters, anxious to validate their cause through the ballot box, paused to ensure the polls would not be postponed.
Online messages have urged protesters not to wear black or face masks during voting in case they are targeted by police.
For the first time, all 452 seats in 18 district councils — currently dominated by pro-establishment parties — are being contested.
Hong Kong chief secretary Matthew Cheung said on Saturday that the vote by nearly 60% of the city’s population is a “real democratic exercise”, and a strong police presence at polling stations will ensure that it proceeds smoothly.