Hong Kong’s streets were not filled with tear gas or smoke from burning roadblocks on Sunday, but the regular weekend clashes continued between black-clad rioters and police as the battlegrounds moved indoors into the city’s many upscale shopping malls.
More than 200 arrests were made during another weekend of unrest engulfing the city.
It was the 21st straight week of chaos and protests in Hong Kong since a China extradition bill stoked a groundswell of opposition in June. Radicals trashed banks, restaurants and shops – either operated by mainland firms or local companies perceived as siding with Beijing – inside shopping malls and in commercial precincts throughout the city.
Many scrawled abusive and anti-China graffiti on walls and shops and wrecked Bank of China branches and Huawei and Xiaomi shops in many malls.
They also targeted Starbucks’ outlets and other franchise brands under the umbrella of Maxim’s, after the daughter of the founder of the local catering giant was critical of the mob violence at a United Nations hearing on human rights as well as on state broadcaster China Central Television in recent months.
On Sunday, protesters switched to flash mob tactics and played cat-and-mouse games with police riot squads. Those who strayed into police operation zones inside the malls were subdued by officers using batons and pepper spray.
Among the shopping centers that were forced to pull down the shutters on Sunday were Cityplaza on Hong Kong Island, owned by Swire Properties, and the sprawling New Town Plaza, the largest mall in the New Territories operated by Sun Hung Kai Properties.
Fistfights also broke out when a few Putonghua-speaking men waving Chinese flags were ambushed by locals.
A brutal knife attack happened on Sunday evening when a mainlander, in an outburst of anger, reportedly stabbed at least three people near Cityplaza and bit off the ear of a pro-democracy district councilor in a tussle as the latter tried to keep the man at bay.
The assailant was then pushed to the ground and beaten up by a large number of locals and protesters incensed by the incident, who used whatever they could grab, from umbrellas to trash bins, to hit him in retaliation.
The mainlander, with his shirt smeared with blood, was rescued after constables and paramedics rushed to the scene to stop the violence.
Two people were in critical condition and two were seriously hurt but stable as a result of the confrontation, and the councilor underwent surgery to have his ear reattached, according to local papers.
In response, the Hong Kong police issued a statement in the early hours of Monday, vowing to “conduct an active and thorough investigation to bring offenders to justice, regardless of their motive and background.”
A subsequent government statement also warned of “vigilantism,” appealing to those with different views to stay rational, exercise restraint and respect diversity.
The police also fired tear gas in the early morning in Tseung Kwan O in east Kowloon, after constables were hit by projectiles hurled by protesters there. There were also reports claiming a sophomore student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was injured and in critical condition after falling from the top of a car park while attempting to flee the tear gas smoke.
Meanwhile, Beijing news outlets renewed their censure of Saturday’s incident in Wan Chai when the ground floor lobby of the office tower of the state-run Xinhua News Agency was vandalized.
“Petrol bomb-throwing anarchists were running amok and attack offices of state organs and China-invested businesses in the city, while trying to take the law into their own hands,” read a Xinhua commentary. Xinhua runs its operations across the Asia-Pacific region from its base in Hong Kong.
In July, Beijing’s liaison office was also targeted by protesters when the national emblem was spattered with black ink.