Anger in Hong Kong over ‘triad attack’ on anti-government protesters

Petrified screams fill a metro carriage as people scramble from stick-wielding thugs; a pregnant woman lies motionless after repeated blows; a young man pleads for mercy on his knees, only to be smacked in the face.  

In the age of live-streaming, Hong Kong residents on Monday woke up to the sickening horror of a vicious assault on pro-democracy protesters and innocent bystanders by suspected triad gangsters in Hong Kong’s Yuen Long district.

Pictures of bloodied faces, gashed heads and bruised limbs overwhelmed social media channels after Sunday night’s attack, which left 45 wounded and one in critical condition. Panic-filled cries, captured in footage of hordes of white-shirted men terrorising passengers with poles and pipes, struck deep in a city already reeling amid a profound political crisis.

The seemingly coordinated assault,  on protesters returning from a huge pro-democracy march, marked a dramatic escalation in the turmoil that has plagued the financial hub for six weeks. 

What began as demonstrations against a contested extradition bill has now widened into a rallying cry for democracy, igniting an outpouring of anger over Chinese rule and shrinking freedoms. 

Now, the brutal scenes at the train station in the New Territories, close to the Chinese mainland, have raised concerns that the city’s feared pro-Beijing triad gangs are wading into the political conflict.

On Monday, footage of the violence on public train televisions mesmerised passengers heading out to suburb of Yuen Long, where criminal gangs and staunchly pro-Beijing rural committees remain influential.

Some of the men in white shirts were filmed leaving the scene in cars bearing Chinese mainland number platesCredit:
Tyrone Siu/Reuters

The blood had been washed from the station tiles and replaced with a strong stench of disinfectant, but the shocking incident has ramped up pressure on the city’s beleaguered police force.

Officers have been accused of taking more than an hour to reach the site and failing to arrest the armed assailants who stayed in the streets around the station into Monday morning.

Lam Cheuk-ting, a legislator who was hospitalised in the incident, accused the police of failing to protect the public. “Is Hong Kong now allowing triads to do what they want, beating up people on the street with weapons?” he asked reporters. 

"What happened last night doesn’t seem accidental in any way," said Claudia Mo, another pro-democracy lawmaker. "It’s all organised."

On the walls of the Yuen Long police headquarters, critics had slapped posters accusing police of working with triads.

Inside, Enzo Tang, a young father and construction worker, screamed at officers over their inaction. He told The Telegraph that he had been attacked for no reason as he returned home, revealing a spreading bruise on his elbow, and a video of the man who allegedly struck him.

His phone record showed he had tried to call the police for help eight times, but he claimed it had been constantly disconnected.

Officers said it was “not an appropriate time to comment” on what had happened, and Telegraph enquiries as to whether the gangs were linked to triads or if arrests had been made went unanswered.

Pro-democracy lawmakers have accused Hong Kong police of turning a blind eye to the attackCredit:
Lam Cheuk Ting /AFP/Getty Images

However, in an afternoon press conference, Stephen Lo, the commissioner of police, strongly rejected allegations of collusion between the officers and triads. He blamed the delay in reaction on the lack of manpower, as many officers had been deployed to Hong Kong Island to deal with Sunday’s protests.

“Our manpower is stretched, because every time when there is a major event, which may lead to violent confrontations, we have to redeploy some of our manpower from various districts to the Hong Kong Island,” Mr Lo said.

The brutality of the gang’s actions may prove to be a turning point in public opinion, galvanising support for the protest movement and against the establishment, suggested high-profile democracy activist Joshua Wong.

“The pro-democracy camp has never attacked ordinary people, but it has happened on the Beijing side,” he said in an interview.

“Those gangs are just serving the interests of Beijing. I believe it is really important for people to realise that,” he claimed.

Assaults on critics of Beijing by thugs-for-hire has some precedent in Hong Kong. The 2014 “Umbrella” movement led by Mr Wong, which called for free and fair elections, was also attacked by pro-establishment vigilantes accused of being triads.

In 2017, the Taiwanese police arrested men with alleged links to gangs who had tried to attack Mr Wong and other pro-democracy activists when they landed in Taipei for meetings.

“I believe there is common ground between the Hong Kong and Taiwan gangsters. They also have certain Chinese support,” he alleged.

China condemned the protesters' vandalism of its Liason Office in Hong Kong as "absolutely intolerable"Credit:
Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE/Rex

The Yuen Long violence overshadowed reports of clashes between demonstrators and riot police on Monday night after thousands broke away from a huge anti-government march to besiege the office of Beijing’s representative in the city.

Protesters who defaced the walls and a national emblem outside the Liaison Office were pushed back by riot police firing rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s embattled leader, on Monday strongly condemned the “attack” on the office, calling it a “challenge” to national sovereignty.

She also described the Yuen Long incident as “shocking”, saying authorities would investigate fully.

But in an ominous sign of Beijing losing patience, Chinese state media called the move a “blatant challenge to the central government” that would not be tolerated.

“When the majestic national emblem of the People’s Republic of China was defaced with black paint, it caused unbearable pain and anger,” state newswire Xinhua said. “These illegal acts are unacceptable to all Chinese people, including the people of Hong Kong.”

“The escalating violence and provocative acts have completely exposed these mobs and the forces behind them,” it said.

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