HONGKONG'S long festive season, with its combination of Western and Chinese commercialism, is usually a dangerous time for the staff of jewellers and gold shops, as ruthless criminals defy the best efforts of the police to protect them from attack. Over the last two days their worst fears have been confirmed. Tuesday's raid on the Chow Tai Fook goldsmith's shop in crowded Causeway Bay left sales assistants pistol-whipped and beaten with hammers by thugs enraged by the very security arrangements designed to keep them at bay. Two women bystanders were taken hostage in the escape. Thankfully, the hand-grenades the gunmen carried were never thrown. Yesterday, two people were killed - tragically, one was a passing pedestrian - and one policeman injured in shoot-outs with a gang of robbers which brought terror to a wide area of Kowloon and Mongkok. In a further escalation from revolvers and hand-grenades, the gangsters sprayed their police pursuers with bursts of fire from AK-47 automatic rifles. Police are prepared for a seasonal surge in violent robberies in the run-up to Chinese New Year, when crooks see the opportunity for rich pickings. Nobody walking around the main shopping areas can have failed to notice the heavy police presence, and inboth of this week's incidents, officers were on the spot to intercept the gunmen as they made their escape. Nevertheless, the criminals are bold enough to risk a bloody confrontation on the streets at the busiest times of day, without concern about the safety of the public. If the gunmen are mainland recruits, brought in to carry out the raids, they are obviously being paid well enough to put their own lives on the line, while the organisers stay safely in the background. The powerful weapons available to the gangsters from Chinese sources are turning the territory's streets into a shooting gallery. The police have bullet-proof vests but passers-by are more vulnerable. Shops installing security devices to discourage robbers are acting on the advice of the police and the insurance companies. The Causeway Bay robbery probably netted a smaller haul because of the design of the showcases, which allowed the thieves to snatch only a few items at a time. However sales staff bore the brunt of the gang's frustration. The police, who were criticised for being trigger-happy when they shot at a hijacked taxi carrying an American tourist from Kai Tak airport recently, were inevitably restricted in their ability to fire back at the gang they were pursuing yesterday through some of Hongkong's most congested streets, but they did succeed in capturing one of the fugitives, who died from gunshot wounds. Calls for the return of the death penalty are understandable but unrealistic, given that the Governor has already announced that the Legislative Council vote to remove capital punishment from the statute books will finally be enacted. The argument that it is a deterrent is contradicted by the crime statistics from Guangdong, where public executions are commonplace, yet far more policemen are killed by criminals every year than in Hongkong, even on a pro-rata population basis. The public is entitled to ask what else the authorities can do to make Hongkong's streets safer. More co-operation from China in stopping the flow of weapons into the territory would be welcome, but experience shows that it is a pious hope that the border can be sealed, and that the Public Security Bureau is better at talking about assistance than giving it. Frequent trips to see his mainland counterparts by Police Commissioner Mr Li Kwan-ha have failed to secure the return of all but a handful of Hongkong's stolen cars in the last year. All the police can offer is increased vigilance and even more men on patrol in key areas in the period up to Chinese New Year, while shops should ensure that they have taken all practical measures to protect themselves and their staff, including more training in how to react if a raid takes place.