September 19, 2019
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Hong Kong reflects on restive weekend of protests

By Shirley Lau

Hong Kong, Aug 26 (efe-epa).- Opinion leaders in Hong Kong are proffering suggestions for the authorities to find a way out of the current political impasse, as the city reeled from another volatile weekend of protests marked by a warning shot fired by police, the unprecedented deployment of water cannon, and protesters attacking police with everything from bricks to Molotov cocktails.

As relative calm returned to the semiautonomous Chinese city Monday, which has entered the 12th week of anti-government demonstrations, academics, lawmakers and a police association respectively spoke of the current political crisis in Hong Kong that is showing no signs of abating.

Anthony Cheung, former secretary for transport and research chair professor of Public Administration at the Education University of Hong Kong, said on a radio programme Monday that if the government continued to sit on the issue concerning the controversial extradition bill, the very cause that sparked the ongoing protest movement, violence in Hong Kong would keep escalating and Beijing would directly intervene eventually.

Cheung was among a group of known figures in Hong Kong invited to a closed-door meeting last Saturday with Hong Kong's top official, Carrie Lam, who was soliciting views from different quarters on how to build a dialogue platform to find a solution to the political impasse.

He noted that while the government had declared the extradition bill "dead", it should formally withdraw it if people still had doubts. He also said it would be practical to establish an independent inquiry body into the various events related to the anti-extradition bill movement.

Benny Tai, an associate law professor of the University of Hong Kong and a pro-democracy activist who co-founded the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement in 2014, highlighted one of the five demands raised by protesters - to grant amnesty to protesters who have been arrested.

Speaking to the radio station RTHK Monday, the academic also noted that not only the hundreds of protesters arrested over the past few months should be given amnesty, but frontline police officers guilty of abusing their powers during operations to clear protests should also be pardoned, in order to lift Hong Kong out of the political crisis.

Speaking of the frontline personnel of the city's embattled police force, Tai said: "I think they are put into very difficult positions. They have orders from their seniors. It's inevitable that there might be situations of misuse of their powers. Surely, they may still have to be responsible for their acts. But I think we should really try to understand what really causes that."

Hong Kong police have come under mounting criticism for its alleged brutality and violations of laws when handling protests over the past two months. Despite widespread calls for the establishment of an independent inquiry commission to probe police misconduct, the law enforcement force, as well as Lam, rejects the idea.

The force is critical of radical protests in the movement, which it often describes as riots, for their use of violence against frontline police officers.

On Sunday evening, not long after two water cannon vehicles arrived in Tsuen Wan, where an authorized protest was held during the day, some black-clad protesters attacked a police vehicle with objects including iron rods. When two policemen got out of the vehicle, they were assaulted by the protesters.

Six officers then pulled out their guns and one fired a warning shot for the first time since the demonstrations began on 9 June. No one was injured by the shot. The police later said at least 15 officers were injured on Sunday.

During the clashes, petrol bombs and other objects such as bricks and umbrellas were thrown at frontline police from the protesters' side.

The violent scenes came on the heels of another approved protest in Kwun Tong on Saturday, which also degenerated into clashes later, with police firing rounds of teargas and pepper spray balls at protesters and protesters hurling Molotov cocktail and bricks at police.

A total of 29 people were arrested on Saturday, and another 29 on Sunday, including a 12-year-old boy.

In response to the escalating violence, Lam Chi-wah, chairman of the Junior Police Officers' Association, issued a statement Monday condemning protesters for upping their ante over the weekend.

He called for management of the police force to review the present strategy of using a "relatively lower level of force" in protests, given that protesters had resorted to "lethal" violence against the police.

The association, which represents police officers below the rank of inspector, issued in late July a statement in which it described perpetrators of vandalism of the gravestones of a pro-Beijing lawmaker as "cockroaches".

Junius Ho, the lawmaker was accused of being behind the mob attacks on 21 July in which a big group of white-clad gangsters attacked protesters and passengers in a metro station.

Since the release of that July statement, the derogatory term of "cockroach" has been heard uttered by individuals not supporting the protest movement, including a renowned makeup artist and a handful of police officers during clearance operations.

Meanwhile, activists are making new plans on more protests, including a rally of animal lovers this Friday, and a march on Saturday organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, which was behind three demonstrations that respectively drew over a million people since June.

Some netizens on LIHKG, a reddit-like forum used heavily by young people taking part in the protest movement, plan to paralyze the Hong Kong International Airport again on September 1, this time for an "unlimited" period despite a court injunction banning protests inside the airport.EFE-EPA


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