Police fire tear gas at Hong Kongers defying ban on ’anti-triad’ rall
HONG KONG- Agence France-Presse
Hong Kong police fired tear gas on July 27 at protesters holding a banned rally against suspected triad gangs who beat up pro-democracy demonstrators near the Chinese border last weekend, tipping the finance hub further into chaos.
Riot police fired multiple rounds of tear gas in Yuen Long after tense standoffs with protesters, some of whom were throwing projectiles and had surrounded a police van.
Public anger has been raging since last Sunday when a gang of men in white t-shirts, armed with poles and batons, set upon anti-government protesters and bystanders in Yuen Long station, leaving at least 45 people needing hospital treatment.
The brazen assault was the latest escalation in seven weeks of unprecedented political violence that shows little sign of abating as the city’s pro-Beijing leaders refuse to budge.
Police have been heavily criticised for being too slow to respond to Sunday’s violence, fueling accusations of collusion or turning a blind eye to the pro-government mob- allegations the force has denied.
Hong Kong has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history after millions of demonstrators took to the streets- and sporadic violent confrontations erupted between police and pockets of hardcore protesters.
The demonstrations were triggered by a controversial bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.
Saturday’s violence compounds the political crisis with the city’s pro-Beijing leadership seemingly unable, or unwilling, to end the chaos.
In a rare move, police banned Saturday’s rally saying they feared reprisal attacks against villagers from protesters, a decision that only heightened public anger towards a force perceived to be protecting pro-government aggressors.
Social messaging channels used to organise the largely leaderless movement quickly filled up with vows from people to join in.
Some suggested holding a "shopping spree" in Yuen Long, others for a mass gathering of Pokemon Go, a popular mobile phone game.
Crowds spilled out of Yuen Long’s main station on Saturday afternoon and into surrounding streets where police maintained a large presence but kept their distance. Many shops were shuttered.
"Everyone of us came here on our own initiation," a 25-year-old medical worker surnamed Ng, told AFP. "So I don’t think this is an illegal assembly, I’ve just come here as an individual to tell people my thoughts."
Another woman, surnamed Cheung, said she wanted to show "we are not afraid and that Hong Kongers won’t cower in fear".
"The police and (the government) are together suppressing people’s freedom to express their views," she added.
Weeks of unprecedented protests with huge turnouts- as well as frequent clashes and the sacking of parliament- have had little luck persuading Beijing or Hong Kong’s leaders.
Beijing has issued increasingly shrill condemnations in the last fortnight, but has left it to the city’s semi-autonomous government to deal with the situation.