Police and activists clash in Hong Kong street battles

Riot police fired tear gas and demonstrators hurled rocks and bottles in street battles yesterday in the New Territories town of Yuen Long, in the latest violent protest in Hong Kong.

More unrest is feared today with another protest planned in Central on Hong Kong Island.

Thousands of black-clad activists, many wearing face masks and carrying umbrellas, defied a police ban and converged on the rural town in northern Hong Kong to protest against an attack by suspected triad gang members at Yuen Long train station last weekend.

Protesters gathered from mid-afternoon yesterday in a largely peaceful demonstration and hundreds of riot police were already in place in and around the town centre.

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Demonstrators fought pitched battles with riot police in several locations and set up barricades.

Some activists also targeted villages nearby where masked men had fled after attacking commuters and passers-by in the station and on trains last Sunday.

Organiser Max Chung, whose protest application was rejected last week, told The Sunday Times about 288,000 people showed up in Yuen Long. There was no figure from the police.

Public anger has been raging since the gang of men in white T-shirts, armed with poles and batons, set upon scores of anti-government protesters and bystanders at the station, leaving at least 45 people needing hospital treatment.

By nightfall yesterday, much of the unrest around Yuen Long had died down and many protesters began to disperse, with the authorities organising special trains for them.

But a small number of hardcore protesters remained late into the night, battling riot police around the MTR station.

About 9.45pm, protesters on an overhead bridge rained objects, including water bottles, umbrellas and traffic cones, on police clearing barricades put up by demonstrators earlier.

When officers rushed onto the bridge, protesters retreated into the station and sprayed them using fire extinguishers.

A police tactical unit then charged at the protesters from an adjacent exit of the MTR station, using pepper spray and beating some with batons, leading to chaotic scenes.

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Public broadcaster RTHK said 17 people were taken to hospital during yesterday's clashes, with two in critical condition.

A 22-year-old protester, Mr Ben Cheung, who stayed behind, told The Sunday Times that he was about to leave when the police tactical unit charged the station.

"People are trying to leave, so you should let them go. By charging, they've just angered everyone so of course I'm staying on," he said.

Hong Kong has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history after millions of demonstrators took to the streets, and sporadic violent confrontations erupted between police and pockets of hardcore protesters.

The demonstrations were triggered by a controversial Bill, which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said the Bill is "dead". But protesters want it fully scrapped, independent inquiries into police use of force, the resignation of Mrs Lam and full democratic reform.

The unrest has led to a plunge in the number of tourists and led to an outflow of wealth as fears grow of worsening unrest, with protesters determined the government must meet their demands.

There are fears of more unrest today with a protest march planned from Central to nearby Western.

Protesters vandalised China's Liaison Office, located in Western, last Sunday in an attack that enraged Beijing. Police have told activists they can gather only at Chater Garden in Central but there are fears some might ignore that decision.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.