Beijing’s top man in Hong Kong broke his silence over the Mong Kok riot on Sunday, branding those who took part as “radical separatists” who were “inclined towards terrorism”. The searing indictment by Zhang Xiaoming, director of the central government’s liaison office, was an indication of Beijing’s tougher line on social unrest in Hong Kong, putting the rioters in a similar category with separatists in the Tibet and Xinjiang regions. But when asked if Hong Kong needed to enact its own national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law in the wake of Monday night’s violence, Zhang said the two issues were not at present related. Zhang offered his remarks yesterday after the spring reception of the rural interests group Heung Yee Kuk, almost a week after the overnight mayhem in one of the city’s busiest districts saw 65 people arrested on rioting and other charges. “We, like many Hongkongers, were shocked and distressed by the Mong Kok riot,” said Zhang. “I strongly condemn the violent and illegal acts of … those thugs.” The actions of the “radical separatists” were “leaning towards terrorism”, he added. Zhang also condemned the “strange” arguments suggesting the riot was justifiable, as he expressed confidence that the city’s government and police force would bring the rioters to justice. “We will not [allow] this very small number of radical separatists to destroy the most precious rule of law in Hong Kong,” he said. “We strongly believe justice will definitely prevail over all kinds of evil.” Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who attended the same reception as Zhang, reinforced the envoy’s message that the rioters only represented a small minority in Hong Kong. Leung also promised to support any police demands for more manpower and equipment following their evaluation of the force’s response to Monday night’s chaos. “There are indeed some people, although a small proportion, trying to reflect some extreme political demands by escalating violence,” the chief executive said. “Therefore, the police force must have sufficient manpower and equipment in facing these new challenges.” Leung noted most of those arrested were unemployed people, rather than students, with a considerable number belonging to what many have described as extreme political groups. He suggested the chaos was neither triggered by the police’s attempt to clear the unlicensed food stalls during the Lunar New Year holiday nor the city’s hawker policy, adding political parties should not try to justify the unrest. But pan-democrats yesterday urged Leung not to shirk his responsibility in addressing the unrest and its causes. “Violence of course should be condemned,” said Labour Party lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung. “But Leung should reflect on why Hong Kong is getting more and more turbulent under his governance in the past three years.” More than 300 academics and professionals to date signed a petition demanding the government establish an independent committee to thoroughly investigate the violence. The committee, chaired by incumbent or retired judges, should identify the facts and causes of the clashes as well as plans to prevent similar incidents in future, the petition stated. It continued that if the government did not address the causes of the conflict and only used “high-handed methods” in its response, “further resistance and conflict of increasing violence and gravity” could ensue. The petitioners said they would ask the legislature to invoke its special authority under its powers and privileges ordinance to look into the matter should the government ignore their requests. Separately, three open letters to Hong Kong’s young people said to be penned by four mainland youths, urging them not to resort to violence, went viral online. The letters were released last week on the online messaging service WeChat and printed in various mainland publications, sparking extensive debate. Meanwhile, Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, the city’s deputy to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said there was no need to implement Article 23 after the riot as she believed local police and authorities were able to maintain public order.