Police had no choice but to use force to quell the violence outside the Legislative Council building on Wednesday as protesters stormed defense lines, posing a threat to law enforcement officials, Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung said.
At a press conference on Thursday, Lo defended the response of his officers and the anti-riot measures that they deployed in handling the anti-extradition bill demonstrators.
Batons, pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets are all non-lethal weapons, and were similar to those used by overseas countries to deal with riots, Lo said, rejecting criticism that the police used unnecessary and excessive force in dealing with the protests.
Police followed established stringent guidelines on the use of force when faced with such events, he said, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Lo had on Wednesday first used the word “riot” to describe the clashes that took place that day.
The government said in a press release Thursday night that “a large group of masked protesters dashed to Lung Wo Road and Harcourt Road in an organized way” at around 8 am on Wednesday.
The protesters “caused obstruction and disrupted public order by occupying the roads”, it said, adding that the police “had all along exercised restraint and tolerance in face of the intimidating and inciting acts by the protestors”.
A large group of protestors used violence at around 3 pm to “charge police cordon line at different locations” and “performed life-threatening acts by hurling bricks, metal poles, planks and mills barriers at police officers”, prompting the law enforcement officials to take protective counter-measures, it said.
The police used force to “protect personal safety, disperse the crowd, control the situation as well as maintain the effective operation” of the Legco and its staff’s safety, the press release said.
Lo claimed on Thursday that his frontline officers came under danger, with even their lives at risk, as protesters violently charged several cordon lines.
Hence, tactics such as tear gas and rubber bullets became necessary, he suggested.
According to Lo, the police fired a total of 150 rounds of tear gas, several rubber bullets and around 20 bean bag rounds during the chaos.
As for the protesters, Lo revealed that 11 of them were arrested for disorder in public places, unlawful assembly, assaulting police and other riot-related crimes.
As many as 22 police officers were said to have been injured in the clashes.
The level of force used by the police during the clashes was appropriate, Lo said, but added that a review will be conducted on some aspects, for instance, how close officers were to protesters when they fired their weapons, and whether they were aiming in an appropriate direction, RTHK reported.
When a reporter pointed to criticism that officers were caught on camera firing tear gas without warning protesters in advance, Lo said the police, if situations allow it, always give a pre-warning before taking actions, but it could be possible for them to do it the other way around when facing critical situations.
Asked about reports that one demonstrator was shot in the head and some others were beaten by officers after being subdued, Lo claimed that he was not aware of which individual case the media was referring to.
An allegation can be followed up only after the injured person files a police report, he said.
At the press conference, a number of journalists wore helmets, reflective vests and even gas masks to convey their anger against the alleged mistreatment that some of their colleagues received at the hands of the police as the media personnel were covering the Wednesday protests.
There is a feeling that reporters and cameramen now need to wear protective gear as even they are not safe from the police strong-arm tactics — this was the message that the media personnel sought to convey to Lo at the Thursday presser, acting on a suggestion from the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
When asked as to what gear the police would use, as well as whether his agency will pledge not to use real bullets, if they face further protest actions, Lo didn’t give a clear answer, arguing he can’t respond to hypothetical, vague scenarios.
It’s hard to say how police will respond should protesters use gasoline bombs or self-made explosives, Lo said, but stressed that there were definitely no plans “at the moment” to seek assistance from the People’s Liberation Army to keep order in Hong Kong.
On Thursday night, a spokesman for the Hospital Authority (HA) said 81 casualties related to the protest activities were recorded at the Accident and Emergency departments of 10 public hospitals as of 10 pm.
The injured included 57 males and 24 females aged from 15 to 66, according to the HA.
The HA, meanwhile, said the personal information of all patients is kept for clinical treatment purposes only, and not with any other intention.
According to reports, many of the arrested demonstrators were university students, including some from the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the City University of Hong Kong.
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