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Masked anti-government protesters set stores on fire. Photo: May Tse

Rampaging mobs stage an arson spree in Hong Kong setting mainland Chinese-linked shops and metro stations ablaze and hurling petrol bombs at police

  • Illegal march began peacefully in Tsim Sha Tsui but the calm did not last as marauding protesters blocked roads, throwing bricks and petrol bombs
  • Mainland Chinese shops, including Xiaomi store, set alight while police water cannon sprays blue dye on the front of Kowloon Mosque

Hong Kong protesters went on a rampage on Sunday hurling petrol bombs and setting ablaze multiple stores along Kowloon’s main thoroughfare, as police fired tear gas and water cannons which sprayed the entrance of the city’s biggest mosque with blue dye, fuelling tensions in the area.

The arson attacks began from around 3pm and lasted for more than eight hours as protesters set fires inside mainland-linked businesses and police and metro stations, before gutting a Xiaomi shop and Chinese medicine store Tong Ren Tang in Mong Kok.

As the city marked the 20th weekend of violent protests, demonstrators kicked off an illegal march in Tsim Sha Tsui peacefully but the initial calm dissipated in less than two hours as marauding protesters began blocking roads and throwing bricks and petrol bombs.

Kowloon Mosque and Chungking Mansions had been on high alert ahead of the march amid fears that there would be retribution against the city’s ethnic minority groups after Civil Human Rights Front convenor Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit was attacked by people described as of South Asian descent last Wednesday.

While protesters steered clear of the place of worship, the mosque’s gates ended up being soaked in blue solution by the police’s water cannon, which was spotted going up and down Nathan Road several times firing randomly at no one in particular or at groups of bystanders and journalists.

“I don’t understand why dye was sprayed on the religious building as there were not many people around,” said Mohammed Sadeque, 34, who came from Kolkata to settle in the city 12 years ago. But he appreciated fellow Hongkongers who helped to clean up the coloured mess afterwards.

Volunteers help clean up Kowloon Mosque in Tsim Sha Tsui, after the police water cannon sprayed the building with blue dye. Photo: Handout

The front, which applied for a march on Sunday but failed, condemned police’s use of a water cannon on the mosque, calling the action “totally unnecessary” as there were only “a few people” nearby.

Hong Kong Unison, which reported that some of its members were doused in the dye and injured while safeguarding the mosque, issued a statement saying it was “outraged by police’s unjustifiable and rash action”.

A police water cannon fires blue solution on Nathan Road. Photo: Felix Wong

It demanded the force explain its actions for deploying the “stinging dye”.

Later in the evening, Ho Yun-sing, the district commander of Yau Tsim, visited the mosque to meet the imam for 45 minutes. It was unclear whether there was an apology.

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The tens of thousands of protesters began their illegal march equipped with banners and umbrellas from Salisbury Garden in the shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui towards the West Kowloon terminus of the high-speed rail link, which was heavily guarded by police.

An illegal march brings a major thoroughfare in Tsim Sha Tsui to a standstill. Photo: May Tse

But before long, the protesters headed north all the way to Sham Shui Po along Canton Road and Nathan Road, as radicals forced open the shutters of shops and banks with mainland links and began trashing them and setting fires to several of them, including a Bank of China outlet.

Apart from the branches of Best Mart 360 – which had been target of vandalism after being accused of having ties with the “Fujian gangs” that had allegedly beaten protesters in the past – the Mong Kok branch of Chinese medicine group Tong Ren Tang was also smashed and its medicine cabinets ransacked. Protesters later returned to the medicine store to set it on fire.

Chung Hwa Bookstore in Yau Ma Tei, also seen as being mainland-linked, was another target, with protesters spray-painting and breaking through its shutters. The glass facade was smashed, and some books torn from the shelves.

Supporters pass out water bottles to anti-government protesters outside Chungking Mansions on Nathan Road. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Also in Yau Ma Tei, an elderly man who was accused of stealing at least three mobile phones from a trashed Xiaomi store was tied up by protesters who insisted they did not condone looting.

A tense stand-off also erupted near the Park Lane Shoppers’ Boulevard as protesters repeatedly hurled petrol bombs at Tsim Sha Tsui station and officers fired rounds of tear gas at them from inside.

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Protesters cut down a surveillance camera near a Yau Ma Tei MTR exit with an electric chainsaw, before setting it on fire. They then threw petrol bombs inside at least four metro stations through their closed exits – forcing the partial suspension of the Tsuen Wan line and the closure of at least 14 stations. The city’s railway operator the MTR Corporation has been the target of protesters who accused the operator of aiding the police’s clearance actions.

Police deploy a bomb disposal robot on Lai Chi Kok Road in Prince Edward. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

By evening, a bomb disposal robot – believed to have been deployed for the first time during the four-month protests – had also detonated a suspected explosive device inside a cardboard box placed at the intersection of Lai Chi Kok Road and Tong Mi Road in Tai Kok Tsui.

Protesters also set a traffic light controller ablaze, apart from the fires they started in the shops the broke into.

In Mong Kok, riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the mob but later appeared uncertain whether to continue their actions. As they retreated, protesters threw bricks at their vehicles, breaking the windows. Police then returned to clash again with the mob, before retreating yet again.

The Hospital Authority said that by Monday morning it had received 27 patients with injuries related to Sunday's protests, aged between 11 and 73. Three remained in a serious condition, five were stable and the rest had been discharged. The Police Public Relations Branch said it did not have arrest figures yet.

Figo Chan Ho-wun, the vice-convenor of the front who pushed ahead the banned march alongside three pan-democrats in a personal capacity, claimed an estimated 350,000 people had taken part.

A 25-year old frontline protester, surnamed Tang, said demonstrators had resorted to more violent behaviour because peaceful actions had not worked.

Anti-riot police in Prince Edward. Photo: Winson Wong

“Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor just won’t listen,” the bank worker said, referring to the city’s chief. “We must continue with our fight.”

The police force condemned the mob, as it urged passers-by to stay away from the scenes of chaos.

“Fires set by rioters seriously affect personal safety of members of the public. Indoor fires can quickly get out of control and burn residents living above the shops,” the statement read.

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Police also said two men, aged 31 and 34, were arrested for “possession of an offensive weapon” in Tai Po and on suspicion of “supplying weapons” to protesters in Kowloon on Sunday. Weapons including 42 suspected petrol bombs and raw materials for creating paintballs were found in the boot of two vehicles – a taxi and a seven-seater car – during a search.

In a statement released just before midnight, the Hong Kong government strongly condemned the acts of “rioters who completely disregard law and order”.

Meanwhile, the city’s embattled leader Lam is set to leave for Japan on Monday to attend the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito, to be held the next day. She is expected to return on Tuesday.

Reporting by Phila Siu, Linda Lew, Kimmy Chung, Karen Zhang, Karen Yeung and Jeffie Lam

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Marauding mob launches eight-hour arson spree