The first half of the weekend since the government’s controversial decision to disqualify populist candidate Joshua Wong Chi-fung from running in the district council elections ended in chaos and violence.
A change of tactics by police and the government failed to break the stalemate as Hong Kong’s festering social unrest entered its 22nd week with no solution in sight.
Once again, police battled protesters on the bustling streets of Hong Kong. The clashes took place mainly in the densely populated commercial districts of Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Central, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui.
Police’s use of water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and batons were met with flaming barricades and petrol bombs from protesters as the two sides played cat-and-mouse throughout the night.
More than 200 people were arrested on Saturday for protest-related offences including unlawful assembly and violating the mask ban, police said at 1am on Sunday.
As of 7.30am on Sunday, 54 people were injured and taken to hospital. A man in Kwong Wah Hospital in Yau Ma Tei was in a serious condition, 23 were stable and the remaining 30 have been discharged.
Some MTR stations and businesses with mainland connections again fell victim to vandalism and mob rampage. The office of Xinhua News Agency in Wan Chai was attacked for the first time, with its glass doors and windows smashed.
Radicals also tried to torch the building by throwing petrol bombs into the lobby – when some Xinhua staff were still working inside. Fortunately the fire was contained and did not cause any extensive damage.
The Hong Kong News Executives’ Association and the Hong Kong Journalists Association both issued statements condemning the attack and demanding police look into it.
A few blocks away, a first-aider was directly hit by a tear-gas canister and suffered burns on his back, according to a video by City Broadcasting Channel, run by City University’s student union, that captured the moment.
Police arrested several protesters. Eleven people were injured and sent to hospitals, including a man in serious condition.
This came in a week that saw the government stepping up pressure on the opposition camp, first banning candidate Joshua Wong from taking part in the elections later this month and then obtaining an interim court injunction banning online messages deemed to be instigating violence.
In Beijing, the central government sent a strong signal to Hong Kong after a top Communist Party meeting, pledging to tighten control on the city, particularly over issues concerning national security. It also vowed to step up the screening and supervision of principal officials here.
Police also continued their aggressive tactics first adopted last week. They would now take quick action to disperse the crowd instead of forming a defence line first.
Earlier this week, police rejected the application by protesters to hold a rally in Victoria Park. Undaunted, thousands showed up on the pretext of holding “election hustings” for the coming district council elections. This, alongside three authorised rallies in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, all kick-started in the afternoon.
A clerk, who joined the protest at Victoria Park and identified herself as Fan, spoke with despair when she gave her take on the disqualification of Joshua Wong.
“This is so obvious that someone is trying to control the polls,” she said, speculating that Beijing was upset Wong had been meeting overseas leaders.
The woman, in her 40s, said apart from the political censorship, Hongkongers were seeing a decline in freedom of speech and assembly, reflected in recent court injunctions and police’s refusal to grant approvals for public processions.
“There is little we can do we do except coming here to march,” she said.
Under a huge police presence, the crowds began to gather in Causeway Bay and tensions mounted quickly. Riot police soon moved in to disperse the crowd, first pepper-spraying those who refused to back down and also making a number of arrests.
At 3.55pm, the first round of tear gas was fired in Causeway Bay. Unlike in previous weekends, police did not wait until they were attacked before going on the offensive.
The protesters, by now well-equipped and well-drilled for such an occasion, dispersed into the side streets but quickly regrouped to hassle officers.
As the two sides engaged in a tense contest in one of the world’s busiest and most expensive commercial districts, it attracted many tourists or passers-by, who paid no heed to the officers’ warning to leave.
The clashes soon spread from Causeway Bay, with tear gas fired near Southorn Playground in Wan Chai and on Wyndham Street in Central. Many bars and restaurants in the area were forced to shut doors and close businesses early. Some radicals set fires on streets to stop officers from advancing.
Once again, businesses thought to have mainland ties or holding pro-government views were subject to wanton vandalism. Two Best Mart 360 stores in Causeway Bay were trashed by rampaging mobs. A Starbucks branch in Sheung Wan was also targeted.
Some entrances of subway stations, including Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, were also trashed and burned.
Across the harbour on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, riot police clashed with people taking part in an unauthorised gathering. Clashes broke out outside Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station as well as at the Kowloon Mosque where police accidentally fired blue-dyed water cannon sprays last month, forcing embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to publicly apologise to the Muslim community.
The scuffle and chaos continued late into the night and the violence spread.
In Mong Kok, a man was assaulted by a group of black-clad people and repeatedly kicked, with his clothes, including his pants, torn off. He had to be treated by first-aiders arriving at the scene.
Lam, who was on a business trip to the mainland, again appealed for a return of calm and peace.
“The huge unrest and violence in the past few months have inevitably affected people’s confidence in Hong Kong,” she said at a conference in Nanjing.
Those arrested, who numbered more than 200, were arrested on suspicion of offences of unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons, criminal damage, and concealing their faces.
The organised crime and triad bureau arrested four men and a woman yesterday for possession of offensive weapons. Officers seized weapons including 188 petrol bombs, several extendable batons and pepper spray.
Reporting by Lilian Cheng, Sum Lok-kei, Zoe Low, Alvin Lum, Chris Lau, Danny Lee, Albert Han, Mimi Lau, Kanis Leung and Victor Ting
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