HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of Hong Kong protesters held an anti-government sit-in on Wednesday at a subway station that was attacked by a mob last month, angry that nobody had yet been prosecuted for the violence.
Protesters fire nitrogen extinguishers toward riot police during a stand off at Yuen Long MTR station, the scene of an attack by suspected triad gang members a month ago, in Yuen Long, New Territories, Hong Kong, China August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Many wore masks, some with helmets, as they gathered at the suburban Yuen Long MTR rail station. Police clashed with some protesters who sprayed fire hoses from the subway station. Others smeared the station floor with cooking oil to try to stop the police advancing.
It was the latest in a series of demonstrations since June against a perceived erosion of freedoms in the Chinese-ruled former British colony. The protests have sometimes turned violent, including the storming of the legislature and havoc at the airport.
Wednesday’s demonstration was to mark the night of July 21, when more than 100 white-shirted men stormed the Yuen Long station hours after protesters had marched through central Hong Kong and defaced China’s Liaison Office – the main symbol of Beijing’s authority.
Using pipes and clubs, the men attacked black-clad protesters returning from Hong Kong island as well as passers-by, journalists and a lawmaker, wounding 45 people.
Democratic Party legislator Lam Cheuk-ting, who was wounded in the July attack by suspected triad gangsters, said he believed the protesters wanted a peaceful night on Wednesday but he could not rule out further violence – from gangsters or the police.
“It is impossible to predict… It is deeply disappointing that all these weeks later we still don’t have an independent inquiry into those events,” he told Reuters.
A protester in a black t-shirt and mask held up a sign saying that one month since the attack, no one had been brought to account.
“I’m most angry at how the police are biased in their prosecutions,” said the protester, who gave his name as Sean and said he was 25.
Squads of police were stationed on the station perimeter and some protesters jeered and shone lasers at them, calling them “black police”.
A small crowd of masked young men gathered on a station balcony, swearing and cursing at police vans down a side street.
Anger erupted in June over a now-suspended bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said again on Tuesday the legislation was dead.
The unrest has been fueled by broader worries about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula adopted after Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, including an independent judiciary and the right to protest.
SHARP REACTION FROM BEIJING
At a speakers’ corner beneath the MTR station on Wednesday, people denounced police violence and their perceived desertion of duty on July 21.
“They just walked away,” one woman said. “What kind of police are these?”
Peter, a 17-year-old student handing out free drinks and masks, said he wanted the night to be peaceful.
“We need to give the frontline fighters a rest from fighting the police, so they can fight again later if we need,” he said.
The protests have prompted sharp reactions from Beijing, which has accused foreign countries, including the United States, of fomenting unrest. China has also sent clear warning that forceful intervention is possible, with paramilitary forces holding drills in neighboring Shenzhen.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated Washington’s calls for China to honor its commitment to “one country, two systems”.
Speaking to CBS program “This Morning” on Tuesday, Pompeo highlighted remarks by President Donald Trump at the weekend warning against a crackdown like Beijing’s suppression of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Trump said this would make reaching a deal he has been seeking to end a trade war with China “very hard”.
In an editorial on Tuesday, China’s influential state-run tabloid, the Global Times, called Monday’s comments by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence linking the trade talks to the Hong Kong protests “outrageous”.
Likely worsening already strained ties between Beijing and London, a Chinese national working at Britain’s Hong Kong consulate has been detained in China’s border city of Shenzhen for violating the law.
Some Hong Kong companies have been dragged into controversy amid the protests.
Pilots and cabin crew at Cathay Pacific Airways described a “white terror” of political denunciations, sackings and phone searches by Chinese aviation officials.
The Hong Kong Pharmacists’ Union said it was concerned about the spread of toxic chemicals from the tear gas used by police in some of the protests.
“We would suggest the protective measures and decontamination actions to be taken after the release of tear gas in your community and the mass transit system,” it said in a statement.
Police responded by reading out from Wikipedia that tear gas does not harm humans.
Additional reporting by Felix Tam; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Frances Kerry