Weekend of rage ends with clashes, tear gas and tense standoffs between protesters and riot police in now familiar scenes of chaos
By Nile Bowie, Hong Kong – Asia Times
Tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong peacefully assembled at the city’s central business district on June 28 for the weekend’s second mass demonstration, a day after black-clad activists descended on the northwestern town of Yuen Long in their thousands. Police denied permission for both marches to held, though umbrella-wielding protesters still turned out in force.
Police, in a now-familiar cycle of events, fired repeated volleys of tear gas at groups of protesters who marched both to Causeway Bay and westward to Sai Ying Pun near the Central Government Liaison Office, which was vandalised with ink and graffiti one week earlier. Riot police cordoned off Des Voeux Road to prevent restive marchers from reaching the building.
Demonstrators, most of whom dressed in black and hid their identity with goggles and face masks, simmered with anger as they erected makeshift barricades a half-block from police lines outside the area’s Western Police Station. Both sides exchanged messages in Cantonese and English over loudspeakers before police put on their gas masks and charged toward the protesters as chaotic scenes unfolded.
Fresh unrest in Hong Kong’s western districts on Sunday follows clashes on Saturday (July 27) evening as police stormed a metro station in Yuen Long, a small northwestern town in the New Territories, using their batons on protesters and leaving the building’s tiled floors stained with blood, events that have raised fears of an unyielding pattern of violence.
Twenty-three people were reportedly injured in clashes a day ago, with two in serious condition according to reports. Police had issued a rare denial of permission for that gathering to go ahead over fears of violent clashes and deemed the mass assembly as “unlawful.” Organizers estimated 288,000 people had attended.
Superintendent of Police Public Relations Yolanda Yu explained in an evening press conference on Saturday that the elite riot police unit had entered the station after protestors began throwing fire extinguishers at officers from the West Rail line bridge. “We entered the station and got the scene under control,” she said.
“Violent clashes broke out at various locations in Yuen Long as some protesters removed fences from the kerbside and used metal barriers to block roads. Some hurled bricks and hard objects at police officers and charged cordon lines,” a separate police statement read. Asia Times witnessed protesters engaging in those described actions.
Click here to read Asia Times’ coverage of Saturday’s anti-triad demonstrations in Yuen Long
Hung Ho-fun, a political-economy professor at Johns Hopkins University, told Asia Times that the majority of protesters were peaceful and that he believed police escalated the situation by using “indiscriminate violence” that he claimed resembled the actions committed by triad-linked thugs in Yuen Long days earlier.
“They are basically using maximum violence short of real bullets to intimidate protesters, chasing and attacking protesters, and even journalists, and social workers. This time they even chased the protesters, who were already leaving, into the MTR station to beat them up,” said the academic.
Hong Kong police, however, did order additional train services to allow protesters, who travelled to the town by MTR from various parts of the territory, time to leave Yuen Long to avoid a repeat of past bloody confrontations that have become increasingly frequent as unyielding demonstrations by pro-democracy activists reach their eight week.
“Whoever is supporting this police action must think police violence can deter further protests. But that is obviously not working, as protesters are becoming ever more audacious and determined,” Hung noted and stated his belief that “protests will continue.”
Despite the increasingly bold and sometimes violent tactics adopted by some segments of the protest movement, Hong Kong’s radical young protesters are “still rational,” believes Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at City University of Hong Kong.
“They have their logic, which is that peaceful protests are going to be ineffective, so there must be a further element of mildly violent actions to exert pressure on the Carrie Lam administration and show that it is ineffective. I do not agree with this, but this is what they believe,” he said.
Hong Kong police, who have been widely criticized for their heavy-handed response to the protests that have occurred intermittently since early June, are accused of turning a blind eye to last Sunday’s (July 21) attack by triad-linked assailants, and even of colluding with the white-shirted gang that wielded bamboo sticks and iron bars.
Police officials and the city’s government have strongly denied those allegations, though the city’s top cop, Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo, admitted that law enforcement officers arrived to the scene 35 minutes late due to manpower being overstretched as officers were deployed across elsewhere in the territory to deal with various mass protests.
Hundreds of protesters in face masks and goggles carried umbrellas and hiking sticks yesterday as they gathered outside Nam Pin Wai village, the area believed to home to some of the more than 100 men involved in last Sunday’s mob attack targeting anyone wearing black or other identifiers of the protest movement.
“This is one of the entrances to go to the underworld,” Mike, a 27-year-old customer service agent wearing a face mask, told Asia Times as he pointed to the village, which was cordoned off and protected by several formations of riot police.
“You see the police? They are using the best of the best to protect the underworld. The police are working together [with them] and not protecting the Hong Kong people,” he claimed, a view echoed by every demonstrator interviewed on the scene by Asia Times.
“The government are devils. They are joined together with the underground triads, the black power. They are just trying to threaten people with opposite opinions to be silenced, but the Hong Kong people are not threatened by their dirty tricks,” said Aida, a 60-year-old retiree. “It should be the police’s responsibility to protect the people.”
Organized crime societies or triads have a long history in the area that can be traced back to 19th-century Chinese fraternal organizations, with gangs thought to recruit youths from the indigenous Cantonese and Hakka communities that live within the area’s low-rise and rustic walled villages, some of which date back to the Song dynasty.
Village heads who control the rural Yuen Long communities wield political sway and are known to hold pro-China views. Some analysts have claimed that the shadowy groups find employment as hired muscle tasked with targeting Beijing’s opponents, though a clear chain of evidence to substantiate such a link in the latest instance has not surfaced.
The gangs implicated are the 14K and Wo Shing Wo, the city’s oldest criminal organizations. A spokesman for Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong on Thursday strongly condemned “malicious rumors” that the Chinese government was behind the bloody episode, adding that the office has “firmly opposed and reprimanded any form of violent act.”
Cheung Yiu-Leung, a barrister and member of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, told Asia Times that heavy pressure is mounting on embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam to accede to protester’s demands for her resignation and the formation of an independent enquiry committee into alleged police misconduct.
“The situation has been spiraling downward and, in many people’s view, has reached a point of no return. Carrie Lam’s administration is now de facto dysfunctional,” he said. “It is now a mainstream public opinion that [an independent enquiry] is the only way to restore order and a sense of justice. Carrie Lam’s time is up.”