Date
21 October 2019
Riot police clash with demonstrators following an anti-government protest march in Hong Kong on Sunday. Photo: Reuters
Riot police clash with demonstrators following an anti-government protest march in Hong Kong on Sunday. Photo: Reuters

Mass rally ends in violence as protesters target Liaison Office

Anti-government protesters in Hong Kong gathered outside Beijing’s representative office in the city on Sunday night and vented their anger through acts of vandalism, which included spray-painting surveillance cameras and defacing the national emblem, prompting the police to move in. 

After some tense moments during which police officers warned the protesters to leave, the area was cleared off but it was not the end of the story.

Things took an ugly turn soon as the protesters moved to other locations in Central and Shueng Wan, where they challenged the police by throwing objects such as bricks and glass bottles.

The police responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the demonstrators, leading to chaotic scenes before the situation was finally brought under control at around midnight.

The incidents came after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in the afternoon expressing their anger over the government’s continuing failure to respond to people’s demands, which include complete withdrawal of the extradition bill.

The mass rally, which was organized by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) — the same group that steered million-strong protest marches in Hong Kong last month — began at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and ended at Luard Road in Wan Chai as requested by the police.

But rather than dispersing after the rally, some demonstrators opted to move into the Western district where Beijing’s Laison Office is located.

Passing a police defense line, around a thousand protesters arrived at the Liaison Office in Sai Wan where they stuck banners and indulged in vandalism. 

Eggs were hurled at the building, the walls sprayed with graffiti and the front door was kicked. Moreover, the demonstrators used paint to block the closed-circuit TV cameras outside the building and also defaced the national emblem.

Some youth banged on the gates demanding that Wang Zhimin, director of the office, come out and meet them.

The protesters read a manifest outside the office, slamming authorities for continuing to ignore and reject their demands even after millions of Hongkongers marched and rallied in a peaceful, non-violent and rational manner to voice grievances stemming the now-suspended extradition bill.

They lashed out at the government for allowing the police to use excessive force against demonstrators since June.

The protesters reiterated five demands, including complete withdrawal of the extradition bill,  amnesty for those arrested during clashes and establishment of an independent inquiry to look into the recent events.

Explaining why they were targeting the Liaison Office, the demonstrators said the office is the one that wields the real power in Hong Kong, rather than the local administration.

If authorities fail to respond to the demands, the protest actions may be escalated, the demonstrators warned.

At around 8 pm, police announced on social media that they will start a clearance operation at the Liaison Office, a warning that forced the protesters to retreat toward Central.

Clashed erupted outside the Central District police station in Sheung Wan, with protesters throwing objects including bricks and glass bottles at officers. Police fought back by firing tear gas, followed by rubber bullets.

Towards midnight, most of the protesters started dispersing, although a standoff between some protesters and riot police officers still remained at 1 am Monday.

In a statement issued late on Sunday night, the government said it strongly condemns the incidents and that it “will deal with these violent acts in a serious manner in accordance with the law.”

A spokesperson said the government “has always respected the public’s expression of their aspirations peacefully”, but “a series of incidents occurred recently, including the recurrent illegal protests after peaceful processions, charging police cordon lines, besieging the Police Headquarters and blocking roads.”

The government “is concerned that a small number of radicals incited the masses in an organized manner, challenged the rule of law, and even stormed the [Liaison Office],” the spokesperson said.

“Such acts threaten law and order in the SAR and one country, two systems”, and are “totally unacceptable to the society,” the spokesperson said.

In another statement issued after midnight, the government said that after the siege of the Liaison Office, “some radical protesters initiated a series of violent acts in Sheung Wan area, despite repeated warnings by the police.

“These outrageous, violent acts included hurling petrol bombs, setting fires and throwing bricks. Thoroughfares were also blocked,” the statement said.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council and the Liaison Office issued separate statements in which they severely condemned the protesters for challenging the bottom line of the “one country, two systems” principle, and the central government’s authority.

Reiterating support for the Hong Kong government and the police, the mainland agencies said illegal acts must be punished to maintain the stability of Hong Kong’s society.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, the New people’s Party and the Heung Yee Kuk all issued statements of their own to condemn the storming of the Liaison Office.

Liaison Office chief Wang Zhimin said on Monday that the recent events in Hong Kong had completely gone beyond the scope of peaceful protests, blatantly challenging the bottom line of the rule of law.

The incidents mark a challenge to the central government’s authority and the constitution of China and Hong Kong’s Basic Law, as well as to the country’s sovereignty, security and dignity, he said.

Wang said his office is “angry and shocked” to find protesters had thrown eggs and ink at the national emblem.

The defaced emblem was quickly replaced with a new one the same night. 

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TL/JC/RC

Demonstrators react as police fire tear gas after a march to call for democratic reforms. Photo: Reuters