Shots fired and bricks thrown: Hong Kong tense after Mong Kok mob violence on first day of Lunar New Year
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying condemns rioters who went on a rampage in Mong Kok and says perpetrators will be brought to justice
Hong Kong was in shock yesterday and remained on edge after overnight rioting on Monday in the streets of Mong Kok prompted police to fire shots in the air, left scores injured, and led to the arrests of 61 people.
Hundreds of people were involved in the anarchy that turned parts of Nathan Road, Shandong Street, Argyle Street and Nelson Street, into burning war zones as rampaging protesters fought pitched battles with outnumbered police and damaged public property on a scale of “organised” violence not seen even during the height of the 2014 Occupy Central campaign.
The rioting, which started after protesters objected to the eviction of food hawkers on the first day of the Lunar New Year, “cannot be justified by any remarks expressing toleration”, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said yesterday.
“I believe the public can see for themselves from TV news reports the seriousness of the situation,” he said. “The SAR Government strongly condemns such violent acts; the police will apprehend the mobs and bring them to justice.”
Those arrested face serious charges, such as participating in a riot, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, police said.
Four journalists were allegedly attacked – three by protesters and one by police officers – in targeted violence strongly condemned by media companies and unions.
The authorities defended a traffic policeman who pointed his gun at a mob and fired two shots in the air as he and his colleagues faced a barrage of broken bottles, bricks ripped up from pavements, wooden poles and other missiles.
The chief executive defended the police action as “maximum restraint” even when judged against Western countries.
READ MORE: Hong Kong New Year fireworks will not be cancelled – Chief Executive CY Leung condemns Mong Kok protesters, supports police tactics
Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said: “Police officers were knocked down on the ground and were further attacked. So, other police officers have to take all necessary actions to keep the peace.”
The police force promised a full investigation to determine whether the officer had been justified in opening fire.
Much of the initial blame for the chaos has been placed on radical localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, whose members were seen at the forefront of the clashes, which continued into the early hours of Tuesday. One of its members competing for a Legislative Council by-election seat was among those arrested.
Last night, as hundreds of thousands of revellers hit the streets again for the fireworks extravaganza over Victoria Harbour, rumours spread over the internet that the “troublemakers” were mobilising again and preparing petrol bombs, prompting a heavy police presence in Mong Kok and other areas.
Lawmakers across the political spectrum condemned the violence, with the pro-establishment camp accusing the rioters of exploiting the hawkers’ case.
Hawkers the Post spoke to yesterday in Mong Kok all denied taking part in the protests, let alone the riot. But pan-democrats suggested Leung’s leadership style was the root cause behind such radicalism among people who felt frustrated and marginalised.
When asked whether the violence reflected extreme dissatisfaction with governance in Hong Kong, the chief executive retorted: “I think you have to ask those people who appeared to be organisers behind this riot.”
Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung said further arrests would be made. He displayed an array of sharpened bamboo sticks, gas cans, bricks dug out of pavements, broken bottles, homemade shields and body armour seized from rioters.
“Vehicles transported supplies to the violent radicals at scene,” Lo said. “We do not rule out that it was an organised and [premeditated] action.”
Nearly 90 of the more than 120 injured were police officers. Many suffered bone fractures and facial injuries.
Social media reports said among those arrested was Legislative Council election hopeful, Edward Leung Tin-kei, spokesman for localist group Hong Kong Indigenous.
Additional reporting by Nikki Sun