Suspected arson attack follows clashes at Mong Kok Occupy zone
Tensions and violence at the Occupy Central sit-in rally site in Mong Kong escalated yesterday as opponents attempted to remove barriers set up by the protesters, followed by a man’s attempt to set fire to their supplies.
Later, fresh scuffles broke out, with protesters clashing with their opponents at various corners of the protest zone. And as a public forum got under way, four bags of what was suspected to be faeces and oil tumbled down onto the audience from a building above.
A total of seven arrests were made.
The alleged arson attempt took place at about 6.45pm, when a middle-aged man turned up with a bag full of flammable substances. Witnesses said he threw three glass jars of thinner at protesters standing near a supply station and whipped out a lighter, but failed to set the supplies ablaze. Protesters overpowered the man and detained him until police arrived.
One fire engine was dispatched.
“The man looks about 50 years old and was carrying a rucksack,” a witness said. “He approached the crowds and suddenly dumped two bottles to the ground near a pile of the protesters’ supplies and materials, and shouted, ‘Burn you all to death.’
“The people quickly pushed him to the ground and subdued him. Police later came.”
Other witnesses said they did not hear the man say anything.
“We surrounded him and grabbed the lighter from his hand,” protester Lam Shing-tong, who also got the fluid on his clothes, said.
“We kept shouting ‘someone’s trying to set fire’ but police ignored us. They came after 10 minutes. We could have all been set on fire.”
Another witness said the man had tried to pull more bottles out from a brown leather backpack.
"The suspect then mysteriously collapsed on the floor and was taken away in an ambulance," said witness Wing Ngan. "I don’t understand why it took so long for police to react."
Glass splinters littered the scene as a strong stench of thinner hung in the air. The supplies were moved elsewhere for safety.
Earlier in the day, taxi drivers started tearing down barriers on Nathan Road but were stopped by police. The major thoroughfare remained closed to traffic.
The incident began when members of the Taxi Drivers and Operators Association arrived at the Dundas Street end of the Nathan Road blockade with a bailiff’s order granted by a court courts this week to clear the Mong Kok protest site.
The group ripped up rubbish bins, fences, wooden pallets and bamboo poles, and loaded the materials onto a truck with a crane.
Angry demonstrators defended their barricades by sitting on them or putting their arms over them. Scores of police officers carrying shields formed a line to separate the two groups as tensions rose. Police urged everyone to stay calm and not to resort to violence.
“We have the ability to [remove all the barriers] but police said it would cause chaos,” Eddie Ng Yip-pui, director general of the association, said.
Ng said he and his fellow drivers would ask a court on Friday to extend the injunction. He did not rule out action on a “bigger scale” should such a court order be granted.
The taxi drivers’ group and a minibus operators’ group received court injunctions on Monday to disperse the Mong Kok crowds. A third order was granted to Goldon Investment, owner of Citic Tower, near government headquarters in Admiralty.
That injunction also failed to stop student protesters from thwarting an attempt to clear their barricades, on Lung Wui Road. About 20 staff members from Citic Tower staff met with opposition as they tried to remove the barriers.
The students ignored a warning that they were in contempt of court from a representative of Citic’s legal department and a plea to clear the barricades because they were blocking a fire escape route.
Students were later seen reinforcing barricades in front of the entrance to Citic Tower on Tim Mei Avenue, which had been taken down on Tuesday.
Yesterday also saw the injunction bids extended to Harcourt Road. Kwoon Chung Bus, Public Omnibus Operators Association, and the China Hong Kong and Macau Boundary Crossing Bus Association have applied to the courts for an injunction to remove barriers between 16 and 18 Harcourt Road, Admiralty, outside Far East Finance Centre.
Kwoon Chung said it had lost HK$3 million in revenue since from September 28 to October 21 because of the blockade.
James Wong Cheuk-on, chief executive officer of Kwoon Chung, said their businesses had been greatly affected by the Occupy movement. He said the company suffered from HK$3 million losses in revenues from 28 September to 21 October.
He said that three cross-boundary bus routes from Wan Chai area to Shenzhen were affected, and the commuting time had been doubled.
Raphael Wong Ho-ming, of the League of Social Democrats, and Cheung Chau islander Kwok Cheuk-kin will represent the Admiralty protesters to oppose the injunction application. Kwok will be aided by the Democratic Party.
Both Wong and Kwok have confirmed they will be involved in the court hearing. Kwok said he would seek to set aside the injunction tomorrow.
“The Basic Law protects our right to freedom of assembly,” Kwok told the Post. “The roads are public property. Even if they are obstructed, it should be the government to clear them, not any private parties.”
Kwok is a frequenter in courts, who has recently sought a judicial review against the government’s report on public consultation for political reform, which he said was misleading.
Kwok said he will also identify himself as a defendant in the two Mong Kok injunction cases, which ask unidentified persons who occupy protions of Nathan Road to leave. He said he would make his case in a Friday hearing when the plaintiffs—three taxi and minibus drivers groups—seek to renew the injunction.
Police spokesman Chief Superintendent Steve Hui Chun-tak said the force noted someone had incited others to occupy the airport and warned of arrest action. “They attempt to create chaos. Such behaviour is extremely irresponsible and must be strongly condemned,” he said. He said the Hong Kong International Airport is a critical infrastructure, and anyone who disrupted public order or behave improperly could be arrested. The call to occupy the airport was reportedly made by a member of a group calling itself “Supporters of Occupy Central”.