Anger soars over vicious mob attack on Hong Kong protesters

Protesters pour liquid onto a tear gas canister after police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters following a march against a controversial extradition bill in Hong Kong on July 21, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 22 July 2019

Anger soars over vicious mob attack on Hong Kong protesters

  • Footage from the attack broadcast live on Facebook showed people screaming as the men beat multiple protesters and journalists in Yuen Long station and inside subway trains
  • The clashes have ratcheted up fears that the city’s feared triad gangs are wading into the political conflict

HONG KONG: Anger soared in Hong Kong on Monday over a vicious assault against pro-democracy protesters by suspected triad gangsters that left dozens wounded, in a dramatic escalation of the political turmoil plaguing the Chinese city.
The financial hub’s roiling unrest took a dark turn late Sunday when gangs of men — most wearing white T-shirts and carrying bats, sticks and metal poles — set upon anti-government demonstrators as they returned from another huge march earlier that day.
Footage from the attack broadcast live on Facebook showed people screaming as the men beat multiple protesters and journalists in Yuen Long station and inside subway trains, leaving pools of blood on the floor.
Hospital authorities said 45 people were wounded in the attack, with one man in critical condition and five others with serious injuries.
Critics rounded on the city’s embattled police force, accusing officers of taking more than an hour to reach the station despite frantic calls from those under attack and then failing to arrest the armed men who stayed in the streets around the station into Monday morning.
Some men in white shirts were later filmed leaving the scene in cars with Chinese mainland number plates.
Lam Cheuk-ting, a pro-democracy lawmaker, was one of those wounded in the melee, sustaining lacerations to his face and arms.
He criticized police for their response and accused “triad members” of being behind the attacks.
“Their very barbaric and violent acts have already completely violated the bottom line of Hong Kong’s civilized society,” he told reporters early Monday.
Nathan Law, a prominent pro-democracy activist, added on Twitter: “When the Chinese mobs are attacking the citizens, no law enforcement are there. Shame on the government.”
The clashes have ratcheted up fears that the city’s feared triad gangs are wading into the political conflict.
Yuen Long lies in the New Territories near the Chinese border where the criminal gangs and staunchly pro-Beijing rural committees remain influential.
Similar assaults by pro-government vigilantes against demonstrators during the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” protests were blamed on triads.
Hong Kong has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history by weeks of marches and sporadic violent confrontations between police and pockets of hardcore protesters.
The initial protests were lit by a now-suspended bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
But they have since evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory.
The city’s parliament was trashed by protesters earlier this month, as Beijing’s authority faces its most serious challenge since Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997.
As the mob rampage unfolded in Yuen Long police were simultaneously battling hardcore democracy protesters in the middle of the city’s commercial district.
Riot officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at anti-government protesters, hours after China’s office in the city was daubed with eggs and graffiti in a vivid rebuke to Beijing’s rule.
Wang Zhimin, the head of the office, blasted the protesters on Monday, saying they had insulted “all Chinese people” as he called on Hong Kong’s government to pursue the “rioters.”
Xinhua added the demonstration “blatantly challenged the authority of the central government” and was “absolutely intolerable.”
Earlier in the day, another huge and peaceful anti-government march had made its way through the city — the seventh weekend in a row that residents have come out en masse.
Six weeks of huge protests have done little to persuade the city’s unelected leaders — or Beijing — to change tack on the hub’s future.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say those provisions are already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.
Protesters have vowed to keep their movement going until their core demands are met such as an independent inquiry into police tactics, an amnesty for those arrested, a permanent withdrawal of the bill, universal suffrage and Lam’s resignation.
There is little sign that either Lam or Beijing will budge.
Beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition bill there have been few other concessions and fears are rising that Beijing’s patience is running out.


Macron backs month of Brexit talks as Johnson visits

Updated 21 min 24 sec ago

Macron backs month of Brexit talks as Johnson visits

  • Macron has rejected Johnson’s calls to scrap a key arrangement regarding Ireland
  • The EU argues the backstop is necessary to avoid the re-emergence of checkpoints in Ireland

PARIS: French leader Emmanuel Macron backed the idea of a month of further talks to find a solution to Brexit while ruling out major compromises as he met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for talks on Thursday.
Like German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, Macron supported allowing another 30 days to find a solution to the vexed issue of the Irish border which has bedevilled negotiations since 2017.
“We need to try to have a useful month,” Macron said alongside Johnson who insisted that solutions were “readily available” to prevent checkpoints returning in divided Ireland.
But Macron, who admitted he had a reputation as the “hardest in the gang” on Brexit, has rejected Johnson’s calls to scrap a key arrangement for Ireland negotiated between the EU and former British premier Theresa May.
At stake is the so-called “backstop,” which is a provision guaranteeing that border checks will not return between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland which is part of Britain.
Johnson considers the backstop to be “anti-democratic” and an affront to British sovereignty because it will require London to keep its regulations aligned with the EU during a transition exit period.
“The technical solutions are readily available (to avoid checkpoints) and they have been discussed at great length,” Johnson said. “You can have trusted trader schemes, you can have electronic pre-clearing.”
The EU argues the backstop is necessary to avoid the re-emergence of checkpoints which could lead to a return of fighting on the divided island where anti-British violence has claimed thousands of lives.
“I want to be very clear. In the coming month, we will not find a new withdrawal agreement that is far from the fundamentals,” Macron said at the Elysee palace in central Paris.
Since Johnson’s ascent to power last month, the chances of a “no deal” Brexit on October 31 have risen, which economists see as likely to wreak economic damage on Britain and the EU.
“The EU and member states need to take the possibility of a ‘no deal’ outcome much more seriously than before,” a senior EU official told reporters in Brussels on Thursday on condition of anonymity.
A French official said on Wednesday that this was becoming the “most likely” scenario.
The Paris visit was the second leg of Johnson’s first foreign trip as prime minister.
On Wednesday, he was in Berlin for talks with Merkel who appeared to offer a glimmer of hope by saying Britain should try to find a breakthrough to the issue over the next month.
“I want a deal,” Johnson told Macron. “I think we can get a deal and a good deal.”
He added that he had been “powerfully encouraged” by his talks with Merkel. “I admire that ‘can do’ spirit that she seemed to have.”
But many Brexit watchers see Merkel’s remarks as fitting a pattern in which she has often been more conciliatory in public about Brexit than Macron, whose abrasive remarks have caused anger in London in the past.
“There is not the width of cigarette paper between Paris and Berlin on these issues,” a senior aide to Macron said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
The EU official in Brussels added that the EU was “a little concerned based on what we heard yesterday (in Berlin).”
“We are waiting for new facts, workable ideas,” the official added.
Johnson, who has deployed his French language skills to charm diplomats in Paris before, has staked his leadership on withdrawing Britain from the EU by the current deadline of October 31 — “do or die.”
Some analysts see a risk of relations between Macron and Johnson becoming stormy in public, which could lead to a blame game about a “no deal” Brexit.
Johnson reportedly once called the French “turds” over their stance on Brexit during his time as foreign secretary — remarks he later said he could not recall.
But Macron pre-empted any attempt to deflect blame onto the European side during a press conference on Wednesday before Johnson’s arrival.
“It will be the responsibility of the British government, always, because firstly it was the British people that decided Brexit, and the British government has the possibility up to the last second to revoke Article 50,” he said.
Article 50 is the legal mechanism used by EU members states to withdraw from the bloc which was triggered by Britain in March 2017.
At the weekend, Macron, Merkel and Johnson will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of both Brexit and Johnson, at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.