Hong Kong police have defended their actions and the lack of arrests after opposition politicians said police had failed to protect a train full of anti-government protesters from a triad gangster attack.
Sunday’s attack came in a night of violence that opened new fronts in Hong Kong’s widening political crisis over an extradition bill to send people to China for trial.
Some politicians and activists have long linked Hong Kong’s shadowy network of triad criminal gangs to political intimidation and violence in recent years.
On Sunday night, men in white T-shirts, some armed with poles, flooded into the rural Yuen Long station and stormed a train, attacking passengers, according to footage taken by commuters and Democratic Party politician Lam Cheuk-ting.
Witnesses said they appeared to target black-shirted passengers who had been at an anti-government march. The attack came after several thousand activists surrounded China’s representative office in the city, later clashing with police.
Mr Lam, who was injured in the attack, said he was angry about a slow police response after he alerted them to the trouble, government-funded broadcaster RTHK reported.
Mr Lam said it took police more than an hour to arrive and they had failed to protect the public, allowing the triads to run rampant.
“Is Hong Kong now allowing triads to do what they want, beating up people on the street with weapons?” he said.
Snippet of a live broadcast from lawmaker Lam Cheuk ting, showing self-professed pro-Gov't mobsters attacking passengers in train cars at #MTR #YuenLong Stn. #HongKong has 1 of the world's highest cop to population ratio. Where were @hkpoliceforce? Lam was injured as shown live. pic.twitter.com/Aq5JmJlf5u
— Ray Chan (@ray_slowbeat) July 21, 2019
Police said early on Monday they had made no arrests but were still investigating.
Yau Nai-keung, Yuen Long assistant district police commander, said an initial patrol had to wait for more reinforcements given a situation involving more than 100 people.
The Hospital Authority said 45 people were injured in the Yuen Long attack, with one in a critical condition.
The train station violence followed an attack on Hong Kong’s Liaison Office on Sunday night.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong for the seventh weekend in a row. Later, throngs of black-clad activists, many wearing masks, defied police orders and marched towards the Liaison Office.
Once there, protesters pelted eggs at the office’s walls. Others spray-painted graffiti on massive concrete pillars, with the words “Restore Hong Kong, Revolution of Time”.
Hundreds of riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to drive them away as police and ambulance sirens echoed through the crowds.
On Monday, China’s state media slammed the protesters, warning “these illegal acts are unacceptable to all Chinese people”.
“When the majestic national emblem of the People’s Republic of China was defaced with black paint, it caused unbearable pain and anger,” Xinhua said.
“These illegal acts are unacceptable to all Chinese people, including the people of Hong Kong.”
“The escalating violence and provocative acts have completely exposed these mobs and the forces behind them,” it said.
The ferocious campaign against the proposed extradition bill that sparked weeks of mass protests in Hong Kong has morphed into calls for democratic reforms.
Demonstrators are not only calling for the Hong Kong government to formally withdraw its extradition bill, but are demanding an EU-wide ban on supplying weapons to the city’s police, and other democratic reforms – topped by leader Carrie Lam’s resignation.
More demonstrations are planned for coming weekends, posing the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012. For Mr Xi’s Communist Party in Beijing, stability is an overwhelming priority.
Protest organisers said 430,000 attended Sunday’s rally. Police put the number at 138,000 at its peak.
The latest protest came a day after tens of thousands gathered to voice support for the police, whom some have been accused of using excessive force against activists, and demand an end to the violence.
“I came back to Hong Kong this summer because of the protests,” said Mandy Ko, 27, who is originally from Hong Kong and lives in Australia.
“My spirit is still with Hong Kong people.”
China has consistently blamed the violence on “lawlessness” and “foreign interference”.
The English-language China Daily said in another editorial on Monday business leaders and other organisations had “had enough of the radical youths” and were demanding an end to the violence.