HONG KONG -- Chinese soldiers ventured outside the People's Liberation Army garrison here to help residents clear streets blockaded by anti-government protesters, in what authorities described as volunteer activity.
The rare appearance by PLA troops on Hong Kong streets, albeit dressed in T-shirts and shorts rather than uniforms, came amid escalating violence in the monthslong unrest in the city.
Images on local media show several dozen men with military haircuts picking up bricks and other debris outside where the troops are stationed in Kowloon Tong.
This appears to be the first time Chinese troops have stepped out of their garrison since the protests escalated in June, triggered by an aborted bill that would have allowed criminal suspects in the city to be extradited to the mainland.
"The Hong Kong Garrison's assistance in the clearing of roadblocks outside the Osborn Barracks in Kowloon Tong is purely a voluntary community activity initiated by themselves," according to a statement from a Hong Kong government spokesperson.
The government "has not requested the Garrison's assistance," the spokesperson said.
The Asian financial hub, granted considerable autonomy since its 1997 return to China from the U.K., can call on the PLA to deploy to maintain law and order. But this authority has never been used.
Before the protests, PLA soldiers did assist with clearing fallen trees last year after Typhoon Mangkhut struck the city.
Demonstrators that had clashed with police at the Chinese University of Hong Kong had vacated the campus as of Saturday morning. However, after a day of relative calm, there were reports of late night clashes between police and protesters, who threw petrol bombs and fired arrows at officers outside Polytechnic University in Hung Hom.
The protests have helped tip the Hong Kong economy into recession, exacerbating the effect of the U.S.-China trade war. The government on Friday cut its gross domestic product forecast for 2019 to a 1.3% contraction, down from an earlier estimate of zero to 1% growth.
This would mark the Hong Kong's first full year of negative growth since 2009.