Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung urged fellow officers to remain committed to “fight for our home city” on Monday after another week of clashes with anti-extradition bill protesters in Yuen Long and Sheung Wan.
Tens of thousands of protesters marched against the police, alleging they used excessive force in previous confrontations and demanding an independent probe into their actions, especially the delayed response after gangsters dressed in white staged an attack in Yuen Long MTR Station on July 21.
Lo issued a letter and an audio clip to officers saying he was proud of their loyalty and hard work. He said their efforts to maintain law and order were “obvious in the eyes of the public”, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.
Lo expressed concern in his letter about the long hours that police were working, as well as injuries suffered after clashes with protesters over the past month.
He praised the officers for their professionalism and bravery in restoring public order without causing many casualties after clashes over the weekend in Yuen Long and Sheung Wan.
Lo said no matter how difficult the way ahead, he and the force management would stand by the officers.
However, protesters, lawmakers, journalists and ordinary citizens slammed the police’s handling of clearance operations.
Second clash at MTR
On Saturday, a mass protest ended in Yuen Long with police fighting with protesters inside the MTR station, the exact spot where about 100 armed gangsters dressed in white launched a brutal attack on protesters and commuters on underground platforms and trains last Sunday.
Police lobbed tear gas around 10pm to force a few stubborn protesters who remained after most had left. Riot police suddenly stormed in and hit protesters when they were planning to leave. The station concourse turned into another battlefield for about five minutes, with protesters fighting back with fire extinguishers, water hoses and umbrellas.
Protesters were hit and left with bleeding heads but the riot police let them left without any being arrested.
A video and photo went viral after, showing a suspicious metal ring allegedly added to the baton of a riot officer used when protesters at Yuen Long subway were dispersed on Saturday night.
But the Hong Kong police clarified on Monday that it was not a metal ring, but a plastic cable tie used to fasten a rope and the bottom part of the baton. The rope was missing, so the cable tie rings slipped to the top of the baton, they explained.
The use of tear gas in a residential area was also criticized. Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters on Castle Peak Road, the main link to the rural town, which has residential buildings and homes for the elderly.
One resident surnamed Chen, slammed police for using tear gas in a residential area, saying it got into his home even though the windows were closed and caused his elderly mother – an asthma patient – breathing trouble, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.
A video also showed old people coughing after tear gas went into a home for the elderly. But a senior police official denied that a home for the elderly was affected in the area.
On Sunday, there was chaos in Sheung Wan and Western on Hong Kong Island when similar clearance tactics were used, causing pitched battles between police and protesters.
Police fired an initial round of tear gas at 7pm and a large quantity of gas canisters and rubber bullets ended up being fired at protesters – and reporters – during the four-hour clearance operation. Riot police were seen firing tear gas from bridges and a multi-story carpark.
Labour Party Lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who was in Sheung Wan during the clashes, said on Monday that police were out of control. In a radio interview later, he said he had tried to negotiate between police and protesters during the clashes.
“I asked the commander to allow time. Unfortunately, after I spoke, the protesters retreated, probably about 10 yards, and we had the reporters in the middle, and I saw the police fire several rounds of tear-gas canisters right into the reporters, more into the reporters than into the crowd.
“I think their main purpose is to disperse the crowd. As long as the crowd leaves in peace, I think they’ve achieved their objective. So they really shouldn’t cause more harm or injury,” said Cheung.
The Hong Kong Journalists Asociation and Press Photographers Association issued a joint statement, saying police fired many teargas canisters near frontline journalists during the clashes, injuring many journalists.
Another lawmaker, Kwok Ka-kei, also a doctor, slammed the police for not allowing him to help injured people.
In total, 24 people were injured in Yuen Long, including two men still in a serious condition, and four police, while four people were taken to hospital after the clashes in Sheung Wan.
Meanwhile, police arrested 11 people aged from 18 and 68 for alleged unlawful assembly, possession of weapons and attacking officers in Yuen Long.
Max Chung Kin-pin was also arrested by the police on Sunday and accused of organizing unlawful assembly in Yuen Long.
Police also severely condemned protesters who vandalized various government sites, lighting fires and attacking police with various lethal weapons during clashes in Sheung Wan.
A total of 49 people were arrested for unauthorized assembly and possessing offensive weapons.