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Hong Kong police fire tear gas in protests against mob attack

Hong Kong protest sparks mob attack against police

Hong Kong police on Saturday fired tear gas, swung batons and forcefully cleared out protesters who defied warnings not to march in a neighborhood where last weekend a mob apparently targeting demonstrators, brutally attacked people in a train station. Police have been accused of turning a blind eye and colluding with the attackers, allegations police deny.

Protesters wearing all black streamed through the Yuen Long area, even though police refused to grant permission for the march, citing risks of confrontations between demonstrators and local residents.

By nightfall, protesters and police were once again facing off in the streets, as they've done previously during the summer-long pro-democracy protests in the Chinese territory. Demonstrators threw objects and ducked behind makeshift shields, and police officers shot plumes of tear gas into the air.

For the protesters, it was a show of defiance against both the police and the white-clad assailants who beat dozens of people on July 21, including some demonstrators heading home after a mass protest. 

Demonstrators march to protest against the Yuen Long attacks in Yuen Long
A protester throws a fire extinguisher as he tries to stop riot police to get inside a train station during a protest against the Yuen Long attacks in Yuen Long, New Territories, Hong Kong, China July 27, 2019. TYRONE SIU / REUTERS

Police said some of the attackers at the train station were connected to triad gangs and others were villagers who live in the area. Demonstrators accused law enforcement of not acting quickly enough to protect the victims and even colluding with the mob, an allegation that police have firmly denied. 

Saturday's march was banned by police, with officers saying they feared violent clashes between protesters and residents, BBC News reports. Clashes between police and protesters in Hong Kong have turned violent in the past few weeks, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Earlier this month, protesters stormed the legislature's main building, tearing down portraits of legislative leaders and spray-painting pro-Democracy slogans on the walls of the main chamber.

"Hong Kong police know the law and break the law," protesters chanted as they made their way through the streets.

Max Chung Kin-ping, one of the rally's organizers, said there were 288,000 participants. The police had yet to release their turnout figure, which is generally lower than organizers' estimates.

Less than three hours after the start of the march, police fired tear gas to try to disperse crowds that had ignored authorities' appeals to leave the area. Police said in a statement that they were clearing out the protesters, who were "holding iron poles, self-made shields and even removing fences from roads." 

As the demonstration rolled into the evening, officers in riot gear faced off with protesters using pieces of wood as shields. Live footage from broadcaster RTHK showed protesters on one street forcing back riot police by throwing umbrellas and waving rods at them. On another street, officers repeatedly raised warnings and fired tear gas at masked demonstrators who were standing their ground. 

Riot police chase a demonstrator during a protest against the Yuen Long attacks in Yuen Long
Riot police chase a demonstrator during a protest against the Yuen Long attacks in Yuen Long, New Territories, Hong Kong, China July 27, 2019. TYRONE SIU / REUTERS

Soon afterward, many of the protesters dispersed, but others stayed put. A group of officers appeared with batons and held up banners that read, "Stop charging or we use force." At least one woman was knocked down when police used the rods. 

Later in the evening, protesters encircled a smashed-up car. The windows of the car were shattered and its body was covered with posters denouncing the police. It was not immediately clear who owned the vehicle or who destroyed it. 

Police said in a statement they arrested 11 men, aged between 18 and 68, for offenses including unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapon and assault. At least four officers were injured.

The Hospital Authority said 24 people were taken to five hospitals. As of Sunday morning, eight remained hospitalized, with two in serious condition.

By the waning hours of Saturday, some protesters remained in and around Yuen Long station. Police warned in a statement that they risked arrest. 

"Police hereby reiterate that the protesters are participating in an unauthorized assembly and may be liable to a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment," the statement said. 

Late Saturday night, police wearing heavy-duty helmets and wielding batons suddenly charged into the train station, where a few hundred protesters had taken refuge from the tear gas.

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