Violence is again pushing Hong Kong on the verge of a very dangerous situation as rioters turned anti-government protests into a riot over the weekend.
The Hong Kong Police Force, the Hong Kong Special Administrative (HKSAR) government and pro-establishment legislators on Monday strongly condemned violent protesters who obstructed roads, vandalized shops and tunnel facilities, hurled Molotov cocktails, bricks and other objects at police officers across Kowloon and the New Territories over the weekend.
During the operations, 21 police officers were injured and sent to the hospital. Police arrested 86 for offenses ranging from unlawful assembly and possession of offensive weapons to assaulting police officers, police said on Monday.
During a routine briefing on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the central government firmly supports the governance of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in accordance with law and firmly supports the Hong Kong police to stop violence and restore order.
The weekend protests in Kwun Tong and Tsuen Wan ended up as a riot, seriously sabotaging the peace and putting local residents in those districts in danger.
Radical protesters willingly escalated violence despite their claimed peaceful assemblies, and they had set various types of traps, hurling weapons such as pellets, iron branches and shackles with bricks to the police, reporters and residents, Mak Chin-Ho, assistant commissioner of Hong Kong Police, who is responsible for operations, told a press briefing at police headquarters.
Some even threw Molotov cocktails from the overpass to police on the ground. Several policemen were hurt, and the violent acts of protesters could have been fatal, Mak said.
"Are these acts the so-called behavior of a righteous person? They just intentionally organize the chaos and cover the violence as bravery," Mak said.
On Sunday night, groups of protesters used ferrous and bamboo branches and guide boards to attack several policemen at the Sha Tsui Road, which injured policemen or even endangered their lives.
The policemen were present to deal with a criminal damage case, so they did not bring riot equipment but only round shields, batons, pepper spray and .38-caliber revolvers, said John Tse Chun-chung, chief superintendent of the Police Public Relations Branch, during the press briefing on Monday.
Before arriving at the scene, their emergency unit vehicles had been damaged by radical protesters, the officer said. Some black-clad rioters even hit a policeman with a sharpened iron branch. "They are not what people said bare-handed peaceful protesters," said Tse.
At that time, a group of protesters was trying to beat the policemen and one of them fell down, but was still being hit by protesters. Seeing their colleague in danger, some policemen chose the most suitable force - revolvers - at that moment after protesters ignored several warnings. As the situation went almost out of control, one of them fired a warning shot in the air, Tse noted.
The act of the police officer was "courageous and restrained" and his use of force "necessary and reasonable," he said.
Witman Hung Wai-man, principal liaison officer for Hong Kong at the Shenzhen Qianhai Authority, told the Global Times that the police have to protect themselves first before protecting public safety and security, and that the policeman firing a warning shot in the air rather than at civilians was "extremely restrained."
"This [police restraints] wouldn't have happened in other parts of the world if a similar incident took place," Hung noted.
The escalating illegal and violent acts of radical protesters are not only outrageous, they also push Hong Kong on the verge of a very dangerous situation, the HKSAR government said in a statement issued on Monday.
The government has appealed to the public to combat violence and uphold the rule of law together so that order can be restored as soon as possible.
The Junior Police Officers' Association of the Hong Kong Police Force condemned the escalating violence, and urged an end to the chaos. "Rioters targeted police officers with various offensive weapons, including petrol bombs and knives, and chased officers when they retreated… we are outraged by those illegal and malicious acts," it said.
"Rioters have never stopped escalating tensions. While police enforced the law, the court should rule as soon as possible to deter protesters," Ho Kai-ming, a legislator at the Kwun Tong District Council, told the Global Times.
While some Hong Kong and Western media blamed the Hong Kong police for using excessive force, as footage showed a police officer kicking a resident who knelt between the police and protesters, Tse defended the police officer's act.
"The man was in the middle of the action where the police officer was holding a gun. The protesters still confronted the police, who had a broken shield and a gun. And the officer was injured after being stabbed by iron branches," Tse said, noting that to avoid greater danger, the officer chose to push the man away to place the situation under control.
Hong Kong police used water cannons to disperse illegal rallies for the first time on Sunday in Tsuen Wan. Water was fired at barricades and the open space without targeting any protesters.