Even at the bleakest moments in the long drawn-out saga of the right of abode seekers, such a tragic conclusion as yesterday's desperate act could never have been imagined. Of the 50 people injured in the mayhem at Immigration Tower, 23 were members of staff, one critically burned in the explosion which followed when some protesters set themselves alight.
If the intention was to garner more sympathy for their situation by injuring themselves, that prospect has been totally destroyed. Public support has always been muted for the mainlanders' cause. Those who still recognise the unfairness of the overstayers' plight will find it hard to comprehend what they hoped to achieve by this desperate deed. Or why the authorities allowed demonstrations to take place 17 times inside the building when it must have been plain that they were dealing with an increasingly irrational and possibly dangerous group.
But therein lies the crux of this complex situation. If it had taken a tough line, the Government would stand accused of heavy-handedness. In normal conditions, a low-key response is enough to calm things down. If events had followed a normal pattern, the claimants would have recognised their case could go no further. However unreasonable it may have seemed, the law had taken its course and the only realistic response was to accept the decision of the courts.
But somehow in the long months of struggle a collective hysteria appears to have taken hold of some abode seekers, erasing all logic from their minds. Their frustrations were understandable, but the manner in which they chose to demonstrate it was out of all proportion to the most justifiable anger.
In Hong Kong, claimants have exercised the democratic rights that every citizen is entitled to. Regrettably, and no doubt confusingly to many, they saw the Basic Law that guaranteed their residence here snatched away when the SAR asked Beijing for a reinterpretation. Lawyers have fought for them with all the powers at their disposal, but without success.
In the most ironic twist of all, these abode seekers are likely to get their wish. They will stay on here, but behind bars, and, in several cases, in pain. Meanwhile immigration staff, who were simply carrying out their duties in difficult circumstances, now lie in hospital, fighting for their lives.