Monday 19 August 2019

Hong Kong riot police fire rubber bullets at protesters in new clash

Attacks by masked thugs spark fears of triad involvement in unrest

Fog: A protester runs through tear gas fired by police during the trouble in Hong Kong. Photo: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Fog: A protester runs through tear gas fired by police during the trouble in Hong Kong. Photo: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Michael Zhang

Hundreds of riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in fresh clashes on the streets of Hong Kong last night.

The confrontation came after demonstrators had vandalised China's liaison office to the city, in a direct challenge on Beijing's authority.

An elderly man offers flowers to police asking them not to harm the young protesters. Photo: AP Photo/Bobby Yip
An elderly man offers flowers to police asking them not to harm the young protesters. Photo: AP Photo/Bobby Yip

In another incident on a night of violence and chaos, protesters were left bloodied by a gang of masked and stick-wielding assailants as they returned home from a mass rally in Yuen Long, in Hong Kong's western New Territories.

A journalist recording the attack - widely presumed to be the work of pro-government vigilantes - was also assaulted. Other victims alleged police were slow to react.

Stand News reporter Gwyneth Ho said on Facebook that she suffered minor injuries to her hands and shoulder, and was dizzy from a head injury.

The 'South China Morning Post' reported several people were bleeding following the attacks, and that seven people went to hospital.

A protester sprays black paint on a CCTV camera. Photo: AP Photo/Bobby Yip
A protester sprays black paint on a CCTV camera. Photo: AP Photo/Bobby Yip

Tensions had risen after the latest in a series of marches against a controversial bill which would allow suspects to be extradited to China for trial.

Organisers claimed it was attended by 430,000 people, but police said it peaked at 138,000.

Thousands of demonstrators ignored police orders to stop in the Wan Chai district, about 1.5km from the government's Legislative Council. Instead, they took the authorities by surprise by besieging China's official representation office.

Protesters blocked roads with makeshift barricades and chanted: "Reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our times" while some sprayed "real democracy" and "universal suffrage" in black paint on the walls.

The act of open resistance will infuriate the authorities in Beijing, who many people fear are running out of patience. Riot police moved in forcefully to clear the streets.

The efforts of a group of pensioners to placate officers with sunflowers did little to prevent riot police armed with batons and shields from chasing demonstrators towards the financial district and firing multiple rounds of tear gas.

In a tense stand-off under a flyover in the commercial district, protesters retaliated with paint, umbrellas and a few glass bottles.

Bricks and poles were uprooted from pavements and steel fences were thrown on to the road to block the advance of the police.

Legislators, including Roy Kwong (36), who is emerging as a hero for protesters, approached the police front line, urging the officers to stand down.

But they were rebuked and aggressively ordered to leave.

Meanwhile, attacks by a group of masked men at a railway station in the New Territories sparked concern that the city's feared triad gangs are wading into the political conflict.

Footage showed the men attacking protesters on the platform and inside trains.

There were similar assaults by pro-government vigilantes against protesters during the 2014 "Umbrella Movement" demonstrations.

"I just have no words for that," Denise Ho, a singer and pro-democracy activist, said as the news filtered through.

Yesterday's rally was the seventh weekend in a row in which people have taken to the streets en masse.

What was initially a show of opposition to the extradition bill has now turned into an outpouring of anger over Chinese rule and shrinking freedoms.

Carrie Lam, the city's chief executive, and her government have been unable to contain rising public anger that has now erupted into calls for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and more rights.

"This is absolutely unacceptable to Hong Kong as a society that observes the rule of law," a statement from the government said, referring to the subway attackers as well as the protesters.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997 and promised certain democratic freedoms under the framework of "one country, two systems."

Fuelled by anger at Ms Lam and a distrust of the Beijing government, the current demonstrations have ballooned into calls for electoral reform.

Irish Independent

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