HK on 'brink of total breakdown' as violence spreads

November 13, 2019 12:27
Protesters set barricades on fire as police storm the Chinese University of Hong Kong campus on Tuesday night. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong saw more clashes on Wednesday as anti-government protesters paralyzed parts of the city for a third day, with some transport links, schools and many businesses closing after an escalation of violence.

Police fired tear gas at protesters overnight in multiple locations as activists blocked roads, torched several vehicles, hurled petrol bombs at a police station in Tin Shui Wai and an empty metro train in Sheung Shui, and smashed up part of the Festival Walk shopping mall in Kowloon Tong.

“Society is on the brink of a total breakdown," Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung said at a regular news briefing on Tuesday.

The flare-ups come after police on Monday shot an unarmed protester at close range in Sai Wan Ho and a man taunting protesters was doused with petrol and set on fire in Ma On Shan in some of the worst violence since protests began more than five months ago.

Thousands of commuters were queuing at MTR stations across the city early on Wednesday after some railway services were suspended and roads closed.

Riot police were deployed at stations, while protesters set up roadblocks and barricades on major thoroughfares.

Protesters are angry about what they see as police brutality and meddling by Beijing in the freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering and has blamed Western countries, including Britain and the United States, for stirring up trouble.

Protesters were planning demonstrations in areas including the Central business district, home to some of the world’s most expensive real estate and luxury shops, across the Kowloon peninsula and in the outlying New Territories.

At the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in Sha Tin, some of the fiercest fighting broke out at night as riot police stormed the campus where hundreds of protesters congregated, firing a barrage of tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.

Hundreds of masked protesters, many of them students, hurled back petrol bombs, rocks and bricks, some launched with catapults. After the clashes, dozens of the injured lay sprawled on the ground at a nearby sports pitch.

The chaotic night scenes of explosions, smoke plumes, yelling and sustained gunfire, which left scores of injured students sprawled on the ground, stoked a sense of dread among some who recalled the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown by Chinese troops on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing.

“The fear among the students is so strong,” said Wing Long, a 25-year-old theology student. “That’s why we’ve gathered today to stop it from happening.”

The police, however, said protesters on campus had thrown debris and petrol bombs onto a nearby highway linking the Northern New Territories with Kowloon, bringing traffic to a standstill in a haze of tear gas smoke.

The city’s 24 pro-democracy lawmakers condemned the police action in a joint statement, saying the nonstop firing of tear gas had turned the campus into a “battlefield”.

They urged the international community to speak out for Hong Kong’s youngsters to “prevent the recurrence of the tragedy of 1989”.

Court injunction sought

On Wednesday, Jacky So Tsun-fung, president of CUHK student union, applied to the High Court for an interim injunction to ban police from entering the university campus without a warrant or the university’s approval.

The injunction would also ban the police from using crowd control weapons, such as tear gas and rubber bullets at the university.

The legal team representing So includes senior counsel Audrey Eu Yuet-mee and lawmaker and barrister Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu.

The High Court held a brief closed-door hearing and is expected to deal with the case at 5 p.m.

As of Wednesday morning, more than a hundred CUHK students stayed on the campus while sympathizers rode on bicycles to deliver supplies to the protesters.

At the City University of Hong Kong in Kowloon Tong, students in hard hats and gas masks spent much of Tuesday barricading the campus as they improvised shields, and stockpiled bricks and petrol bombs on bridges and other approaches.

Protesters also smashed up glass panels in the adjacent Festival Walk shopping mall and set fire to a giant Christmas tree.

The vandalism was apparently in reprisal to the failure of the shopping center's management to prevent riot police from storming the mall and arresting protesters on Sunday, RTHK reported.

The Hospital Authority said 81 people had been injured since Monday, with two in serious condition.

The youngest was 10 months old but the cause of the infant’s injuries was not known. The oldest was 81 years old.

Between midnight and 7 a.m. on Wednesday, 24, including 20 males and four females, were sent to hospitals due to injuries from public events, aged 17 to 54, the authority said. Among them, one man had been in serious condition and 14 in stable condition, while five had been discharged and the rest in unknown condition.

Many tertiary institutions canceled classes on Wednesday. The Education Bureau (EDB) on Wednesday morning announced that parents could decide whether to send their children to school and urged them not to participate in “unlawful activities”.

The EDB later announced that classes in all primary schools, secondary schools, kindergartens and special schools will be canceled on Thursday for safety reasons.

Return to 'normal'

Several train lines, stations and bus routes were shut because of damaged facilities, MTR Corp. said, adding that its whole train network would shut more than two hours early, by 10 p.m.

“It is very painful to watch my city turn into this. Look at everyone, how angry they are,” said Alexandra, a 42-year-old insurance executive who had been trying to get to work.

“We all want to return to normal, but how can the government do that if they don’t listen to what Hongkongers have been asking for.”

Outside the Baptist University in Kowloon Tong, police rammed barricades with buses to clear them. At least two people were arrested before police made a quick retreat.

Hong Kong’s stock market dropped 2 percent to a three-week low in early afternoon trade, outpacing falls elsewhere in Asia.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said protesters trying to paralyze the city were being “extremely selfish”.

Chinese state media condemned the violence with the China Daily newspaper stating that young protesters were reveling in a “hormone-fueled ‘rebellion’”.

“It is foolish and naive to believe that Hong Kong would be better off by eliminating all mainland factors. Particularly, since the mainland is the main source of fresh water, electricity and the largest supplier of food to the city.” With Reuters

– Contact us at [email protected]


Riot police fire tear gas at the CUHK campus on Tuesday. Photo: AFP