Bloody attacks on shoppers and a pro-democracy lawmaker by unidentified men wielding makeshift weapons at a Hong Kong mall on Sunday left dozens of people in hospital amid growing public outrage at the failure of the city's police force to intervene in a timely manner.
Dozens of men in white shirts gathered near the Yoho Mall, part of the Yuen Long MTR subway station development, at around 6.00 p.m, according to social media posts.
Some wore slogans that read "Protect Yuen Long" and "Guarding our homeland."
Members of the group began attacking and intimidating members of the public standing on an suburban rail platform, while another group entered the adjacent subway station at around 11.00 p.m.
Some social media reports said they were targeting anyone wearing black, in the belief that they had attended a mass anti-extradition rally earlier in the day, where protesters typically wear black T-shirts. However, other reports said they were attacking people indiscriminately.
Some passengers fought back with umbrellas, and even a fire extinguisher during the attacks, which lasted for over an hour before riot police moved in, according to eyewitness and local media reports.
"Angry thugs forced open shuttered entrance with rods in their hands," off-duty journalist Jeffie Lam, who lives nearby, wrote in a thread on her Twitter account.
"Residents ran towards the mall as fast as they could. Some failed, got caught and attacked, with blood all over their face ... And there were no police officers. None," Lam wrote.
Lam said some of the attackers had been carrying Chinese national flags.
"The men attacked anyone in the station indiscriminately, many of whom returned from the #antiELAB [anti-extradition] protest or just came over to support," she wrote. "They attacked people fiercely."
Police waited an hour to move
At least 45 people were sent to hospital, with one in critical condition and five in serious condition. Pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting and at least one journalist were among those injured, according to social media posts.
MTR staff, who were also attacked by the mob, called the police, but officers didn't move in for at least an hour, during which time the attacks continued.
The MTR corporation announced the closure of Yuen Long station after a large crowd gathered.
Hundreds of community members and anti-extradition protesters said they would continue to patrol the area around the mall in a bid to protect local residents from further attacks.
March organizers the Civil Human Rights Front issued a statement strongly condemning the attacks on the public in Yuen Long, hitting out at the police for indulging the white-shirted "mob."
Police superintendent Yau Nai-keung, assistant commander of Yuen Long District, said they had received a call for help shortly before 11.00 p.m. on Sunday, and a team of officers were dispatched to the station.
He said that the patrol team hadn't intervened because they felt "their safety could not be guaranteed."
He said the failure of police to arrest some suspected attackers was due to uncertainty over their identity.
"Even those dressed in white, that doesn't mean they are involved in the conflict," Yau told an early morning news conference that was reported by government broadcaster RTHK. "We will handle each case fairly - no matter the political camp they belong to."
Earlier, the station quoted Police Pat Heung division commander Li Hon-man as responding mockingly to journalists' questions about the length of time it took police to respond, replying that he "didn't have a chance to look at his watch."
'Confrontations and injuries'
Earlier in the day, anti-extradition protesters vandalized Beijing's Central Liaison Office in Sheung Wan district at the tail end of a peaceful mass protest against plans to allow the extradition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China.
The administration of chief executive Carrie Lam issued a statement condemning violence, but focused on "outrageous" damage to property at the Central Liaison Office, mentioning the unprovoked attacks on people only further down the statement.
"These outrageous acts included hurling petrol bombs, setting fires, throwing bricks and blocking thoroughfares," the statement said.
"In Yuen Long, some people congregated at the MTR station platforms and the train compartments where they attacked commuters. This led to confrontations and injuries," it said.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the Central Liaison Office, a towering symbol of ruling Chinese Communist Party power in the city, and the frequent target of protests, after the main anti-extradition protest numbering nearly half a million had dispersed, according to online video footage.
Some protesters threw eggs at the building, while others painted over the emblem of the People's Republic of China in black and daubed graffiti over the official plaque on the office's gates.
The crowd chanted "Oppose rendition to China! Oppose the evil law! Investigate police violence!"
One protester at the scene told RFA: "We are a bunch of Hong Kong protesters who have been turning out in our millions since the beginning of June in a number of peaceful, non-violent and rational protests, including marches, to tell the government and the rest of the world to accede to our demands and opposition to renditions to China."
"There are also five upstanding people who haven't hesitated to lay down their lives for the cause, but sadly it seems that all that sweat and blood has flowed in vain," the protester said, in an apparent reference to recent suicides of anti-extradition protesters.
'Hurt the feelings of the Chinese people'
Office director Wang Zhimin said the "rioters" had hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and the dignity of China's national emblems, which were replaced overnight.
"The radicals devastated facilities, defaced the national emblem, painted words insulting the country and nation, which had went far beyond a peaceful demonstration," the office said in a statement cited by state news agency Xinhua.
"Those behaviors have ... seriously challenged ... the authority of the central government," the statement said.
Protesters are calling on Lam to formally withdraw amendments tabled to the Legislative Council that would allow the rendition of alleged criminal suspects from Hong Kong to face criminal proceedings in mainland China.
Critics say the move would undermine the legal "firewall" between two very different political and judicial systems and likely call into question Hong Kong's status as a separate trading port.
They also want an amnesty for anyone arrested during mass protests against the amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance in recent weeks.
The amendments are widely seen as a threat to Hong Kong's way of life, which was supposed to have been protected by the "one country, two systems" framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.
If they become law, the city could lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction and trading entity, while journalists, visitors, rights activists, dissidents, democratic politicians, and members of the business community could be targeted for words and actions deemed illegal by Chinese officials.
They could then be extradited to face trial in Chinese courts, which are directly controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Students, march organizers, and pro-democracy lawmakers have all rejected government attempts at initiating discussions, demanding an amnesty for all those arrested in connection with recent protests, an end to the official description of protesters as "rioting", and the formal withdrawal of the planned amendments before the end of the current LegCo term in 2020.
Lam has said the amendments are "dead" and will expire at the end of the current term of the Legislative Council in 2020, but campaigners say her assertion offers no legal guarantees.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Wang Yun for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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