Source: NYT (7/27/19)
Hong Kong Protests: Police Fire Tear Gas as Tens of Thousands Demonstrate Where Mob Rampaged
By Austin Ramzy
HONG KONG — Riot police officers fired many rounds of tear gas as they tried to disperse tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong who converged on Saturday on the satellite town where an armed mob attacked some demonstrators last weekend.
The protest in the district, Yuen Long, is an angry response to an assault by more than 100 men, armed with sticks and metal bars, on demonstrators and others in a train station there last Sunday night that left at least 45 people injured.
As hundreds of demonstrators in black shirts arrived at the station where the attack occurred, Cary Lo, a 37-year-old compliance officer and community officer for the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, said they had gathered there in defiance of a police ban because they believed there was safety in numbers.
“We have come here because we still support all the actions of the people here today,” Mr. Lo said, adding that the protesters were demanding the withdrawal of an unpopular extradition bill and wanted to oppose violence. He held a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the pro-democracy protest movement.
The wave of protests sweeping Hong Kong began in early June and has targeted a draft legislation, since shelved, that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. The demands have since grown to include broader democracy and an independent investigation into accusations that the police used excessive force against demonstrators.
“Hong Kong people have to unite and stand up for Hong Kong,” says Rita Tang, a 56-year-old health consultant who joined Saturday’s protest in Yuen Long. “We have neglected our rights. We must fight for our future generation for their rights that they deserve.”
Protesters filled the main street of Yuen Long in the afternoon, marching peacefully for about two hours. But the police began to push the back after a group occupied a road on the edge of the town center, surrounding a police van, smashing a window and covering it with graffiti.
For several hours in the afternoon, as protesters tried to advance toward a police line, riot officers fired round after round of tear gas at them, forcing them back. A leading pro-democracy lawmaker, Roy Kwong, said the tear gas was being fired near a home for older people.
“It’s an elderly home,” he shouted at the police. “If an elderly person dies, you need to be responsible.”
The protesters dragged steel barricades and pulled down metal fences to assemble makeshift roadblocks as they tried to get closer to a low-rise village where gang members were thought to have fled after last Sunday’s mob attack. Riot police drove them back with tear gas.
Across the masses of demonstrators, a chorus of banging could be heard as the crowd used sticks and umbrellas to strike road dividers and other metallic surfaces. The police said some demonstrators were throwing bricks and other hard objects at officers.
Most businesses along the protest route and in Yuen Long’s otherwise bustling malls shut down as the demonstrators marched through the area. Many protesters gathered around the town’s police station, throwing “ghost money” — a type of fake money usually meant for the dead — at the building.
The Hong Kong police have been criticized for their slow response to the mob attack on Sunday, and for not detaining anyone in Yuen Long that night. They have since arrested 12 men in connection with the attack, including some accused of having connections with the gangs known as triads.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, the No. 2 official in Hong Kong, apologized on Friday for the police response.
But in an unusually public sign of divisions between the police and the government, some officers posted images online late Friday saying that Mr. Cheung did not speak for them, and that his words undermined their work. A letter from the Junior Police Officers’ Association “severely condemned” Mr. Cheung’s comments.
The authorities had warned that a march in Yuen Long would threaten public security and risk clashes between protesters and residents. To skirt the ban, some protesters suggested alternate reasons for going to Yuen Long: shopping, jogging, playing Pokemon Go or even, most sarcastically, holding a memorial for Li Peng, the recently deceased ex-premier of China who was loathed by many for his role in crushing the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
Among those attending the protest was Leonard Cheng, the president of Lingnan University, who said he wanted “to know and understand the situation because many students are here.” He warned students away from violence, saying, “Please run if you see danger.”
Yuen Long, which sits near fish and shrimp farms across a bay from the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen, has both old villages and urban new towns, which were built in the 1970s and ’80s to handle Hong Kong’s population growth. For many years, dating back to when Hong Kong was a British colony, the authorities have trodden carefully with the village residents.
Descendants of people who lived in the villages in the late 19th century, when Britain took over the area, are still given special land rights and representation in elected bodies — privileges seen as unfair by many in the wider population.
Eddie Chu, a pro-democracy lawmaker, warned protesters this week to avoid villages, graves and ancestral halls in the area. Any such incursion, he wrote on Facebook, would help justify the arguments of Junius Ho, a pro-establishment politician from the area. Mr. Ho was seen with men in white T-shirts on the night of the train station attack, and he later said that Yuen Long needed to be defended from protesters. Soon after the attack, the graves of Mr. Ho’s parents were vandalized.
Earlier this past week, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense said the military, which has several thousand troops based in Hong Kong, could be called in if the police were unable to maintain order. Hong Kong officials have had the right to ask for military intervention ever since the territory was returned to Chinese rule, but they have repeatedly said that they have no plans to take such a drastic step.
Katherine Li, Ezra Cheung and Tiffany May contributed reporting.