Protesters decry Aug 31 incident, virus clinic arrangements

March 02, 2020 12:58
Riot police fire tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters after a clash in Mong Kok on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Clashes erupted in multiple districts in Hong Kong over the weekend, as citizens took to the streets to vent their anger over two issues -- police conduct during last year's anti-government protests and the recent move by authorities to set up coronavirus-related quarantine facilities in residential neighborhoods.

On Saturday, a number of people gathered outside Prince Edward MTR Station to mark the six-month anniversary of the Aug. 31, 2019 crackdown, when police officers were accused of beating up suspected pro-democracy protesters and others inside the MTR station and in train carriages.

According to a government statement on Sunday afternoon, "rioters" began to gather around Nathan Road and Prince Edward Road West on Saturday evening, blocking roads, setting fires, vandalizing public facilities, hurling petrol bombs and attacking police officers with bricks and hard objects. Several police officers were injured as a result, it said.

In the face of the situation, officers at the scene later fired tear gas and used pepper spray to disperse the crowd, while also making some arrests.

A total of 115 people, aged 15 to 54, were arrested that night on suspicion of different offences that included unlawful assembly, assault and obstructing police.

Sources told the Hong Kong Economic Journal that the arrested persons included a 23-year-old off-duty auxiliary police officer who is a teacher by profession, and Daniel Kwok Tsz-kin, a member of the Kwai Tsing District Council, as well as two assistants of Kwok.

In the Sunday statement, a government spokesman condemned the vandalism in Mong Kok the previous night, saying the acts led to breach of public peace and seriously jeopardized the safety of members of the public.

The spokesman added that Hong Kong experienced a series of violent demonstrations last year, dealing a big knock to the economy and people's livelihoods. The situation has become more grim now following the Covid-19 epidemic, posing "unprecedented challenges to the economy and well-being of the entire community,” he said.

“At this difficult juncture, a small number of radicals still conducted violent acts of vandalism which disregard law and order. Their behaviour is outrageous. We strongly believe that Hong Kong people will stay united and fight against the disease together, help the Hong Kong community to withstand the current difficulties and gear up for a brighter tomorrow,” the spokesman said.

Several hours after the Mong Kok clashes, South Kwai Chung Jockey Club General Outpatient Clinic was attacked early Sunday morning, with its outer walls blackened by smoke due to suspected arson. The spokesman, in the statement, strongly condemned the "malicious behavior of damaging medical facilities, which caused innocent patients to suffer."

Preliminary investigation led the police to believe the incident was suspicious and listed it as a case of arson. No arrests have been made.

Seriously condemning the attacks, a spokesman for the Hospital Authority on Sunday morning said damaging medical facilities would affect the operations of general outpatient clinics and compromise patient safety.

Later in the day, people once again staged protests in Shau Kei Wan, Kowloon Bay and Yau Ma Tei to oppose government’s moves designating some clinics close to residential areas to treat patients suffering symptoms associated with Covid-19 infection.

The protesters argued that the people living in the neighborhoods should have been consulted before the decisions to set up the special coronavirus-related facilities were made.

At around 4 pm, about 100 people began to march from Shau Kei Wan Bus Terminus to Sai Wan Ho, with some participants using miscellaneous objects to block roads and causing traffic congestion.

As the demonstrators passed a center of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, some black-clad and masked people were seen using paint to smudge the outer walls of the office. A sign outside an exit of Shau Kei Wan MTR Station was also defaced with paint.

In Yau Ma Tei, dozens of people joined a rally staged by Yau Tsim Mong district councilor Suzanne Wu Sui-shan to protest a designated clinic in the district. During the event, a woman was arrested for possessing a petrol bomb.

In Kowloon Bay, a march was held around Richland Gardens once again on Sunday night, with participants slamming the government for planning to designate a clinic in the Kowloon Bay Health Centre as a coronavirus-related treatment facility.

After the protesters left at around 10:30 pm, a minor blaze was observed in a garden area outside the center, sparking suspicion that some people may have set off a fire deliberately.

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In Yau Ma Tei, dozens of people on Sunday joined a demonstration staged by Yau Tsim Mong district councilor Suzanne Wu to protest a coronavirus-related facility in the district. Photo: HKEJ