Police fired around 800 tear gas grenades during clashes with protesters on Monday, when a general strike saw multiple mass actions rage across the city.
Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung of the Police Public Relations Branch told a media conference on Tuesday afternoon that police officers also fired about 140 rubber bullets and 20 sponge grenades during the day to disperse protesters, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The numbers were huge when compared with those fired by police between June 9, when the first massive demonstration against the government’s proposed changes to the extradition laws was staged, and Aug. 4. About 1,000 tear gas canisters, 160 rubber bullets and 150 sponge grenades were fired during the period.
On Monday afternoon, protesters staged rallies in seven districts to put pressure on the government to respond to their demands, including the complete withdrawal of the now-suspended extradition bill and the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry to look into recent violent incidents.
Kong said the number of violent incidents caused by demonstrators on Monday was almost the same as that seen last month.
As the protesters attacked police stations and even used petrol bombs, officers had to respond with reasonable force based on the prevailing situation, he said.
Kong also accused the demonstrators of extending their violence to residential areas.
A total of 148 people, including 95 men and 53 women, were arrested on Monday on various offenses, including suspicion of assembly, assaulting police officers, and possession of offensive weapons, he said.
Of the suspects, aged 13 to 63, two have been charged with criminal damage of traffic lights and another two with unlawful assembly. They appeared at the Sha Tin Magistrates’ Court and the Kowloon City Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.
Asked by media about the police decision to dispatch two armored carriers, Unimog U5000, Kong explained that the vehicles were deployed for defensive purposes as well as clearing roadblocks and transporting police officers and even patients during the mass actions. He did not say what equipment police carried on the vehicles.
Data from the Fire Services Department showed its staff dealt with 21 cases in which protesters set fire to various items, while the Transport Department said more than 70 of the about 200 vandalized traffic lights remained inoperative.
In an inter-departmental press conference on Tuesday evening, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu called Monday’s violent incidents unprecedented since the 1997 handover.
“They were the most widespread, most damaging and most serious. They created serious danger to Hong Kong society as a whole,” Lee said.
In response to the question regarding residential areas affected by tear gas fired by police and its excessive use of force, Lee said it was the protesters who chose the locations and the police just arrived at the scene for law enforcement.
“The police reacted to where protesters gathered, particularly violent protesters. In simple words, protesters chose the locations. Police had to deal with them, where they gathered and where they might cause violence or damage to public safety and public peace.”
“They were widespread. That was why some might have taken place in residential areas … protesters spread to different places, including residential areas,” Lee added.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung told the same press conference that people agree on the need to restore law and order, “first and foremost”, rathen than the issue of the extradition, which he said has been put to “a complete full stop” and is no longer on the government’s agenda.
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