Hong Kong condemns attack on justice secretary as protests paralyse city for fifth day

Asia World

HONG KONG: The Chinese and Hong Kong governments condemned on Friday (Nov 15) an attack by a “violent mob” on the city’s justice secretary in London, the first direct altercation between demonstrators and a government minister during months of often violent protests.

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng, who was in London to promote Hong Kong as a dispute resolution and deal-making hub, was targeted by a group of protesters who shouted “murderer” and “shameful”.

READ: Authority to direct curfew orders rests with Carrie Lam, say Hong Kong police amid rumours

A Hong Kong pro-democracy protester sleeps on a barricaded street outside a university
A Hong Kong protester sleeps on a barricaded street outside a university. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

A statement by the Hong Kong government said Cheng suffered “serious bodily harm” but gave no details. Video footage of the incident showed Cheng falling to the ground.

The Chinese embassy in the UK said Cheng was pushed to the ground and sustained a hand injury.

“(Cheng) was besieged and attacked by dozens of anti-China and pro-independence activists,” the Chinese embassy said in a statement. The incident showed that the “violent and lawless perpetrators” were now taking their violence abroad, it said.

China has lodged a formal complaint with Britain and urged British authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam also strongly condemned the attack.

The former British colony’s government said in a separate statement: “The secretary denounces all forms of violence and radicalism depriving others’ legitimate rights in the pretext of pursuing their political ideals, which would never be in the interest of Hong Kong and any civilised society.”

British police on Friday said they are investigating the alleged assault, but so far there have been not been any arrests.

“A woman was taken to hospital by London Ambulance Service suffering an injury to her arm,” the police said in a statement.

“Enquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances. There has been no arrest at this stage.” 

The incident came amid escalating violence in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, where a student protester died earlier this month after falling from a parking lot during demonstrations.

A 70-year-old street cleaner, whose videos on social media showed had been hit in the head by a brick thrown by “masked rioters”, died on Thursday, authorities said.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department expressed profound sadness on Friday at the death of its cleaning worker and said it was providing assistance to his family.

“STAND WITH HONG KONG”

Anti-government protesters paralysed parts of Hong Kong for a fifth day on Friday, forcing schools to close and blocking some highways as students built barricades in university campuses and authorities struggled to tame the violence.

A “Lunch With You” event saw thousands of mainly office workers take to the city’s streets, many chanting “Stand with Hong Kong” and raising an open hand with five fingers splayed.

Office workers have taken to Hong Kong's streets this week in support of more hardcore
Office workers have taken to Hong Kong’s streets this week in support of more hardcore protesters. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

It is a reference to the five demands of the protest movement, which include the right to freely elect Hong Kong’s leaders, as well as an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

“The government did not respond even when two million residents marched peacefully,” a 25-year-old office worker who gave her surname as Wong said in the city’s Central district, in reference to huge rallies that were a feature of the start of the movement.

“Now when the police are abusing their power the government … only thinks protesters are the problem.”

protesters with bricks
A man (C) walks through bricks placed on a barricaded street outside The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Nov 15, 2019. (Photo: ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP)

READ: Hong Kong protesters threaten ‘one country, two systems’ principle: President Xi

Protesters used barriers and other debris to block the Cross-Harbour Tunnel that links Hong Kong island to Kowloon district, leading to severe traffic congestion. The government once again urged employers to adopt flexible working arrangements amid the chaos.

Some commuters working near the area said they have to take alternative route and expected some delay in the morning, but the situation was relatively calm.

Thousands of students remain hunkered down at several universities, surrounded by piles of food, bricks, petrol bombs, catapults and other homemade weapons. Hong Kong students fortified security in a university by setting up roadblocks and bag checks.

Flash mobs again protested at lunch time in the heart of the financial hub and also in the eastern district of Tai Koo, where office workers wearing now-banned face masks chanted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time”.

According to social media posts, King’s Road in Hong Kong was packed with protesters on Friday afternoon.

Outside Wong Chuk Hang MTR station, protesters were said to be setting up roadblocks on Friday afternoon, according to Twitter.

“Things that happened in these few months have made people heartbroken,” said a 31-year-old office assistant who gave her name as Nicole.

“The government only came out to condemn rioters … They have never thought why so many rioters have emerged in our city and why ordinary citizens support them,” she said.

lunchtime protests hk crowd
Protesters in Hong Kong during lunch time on Nov 15, 2019.
lunchtime protests hk
Protesters in Hong Kong during lunch time on Nov 15, 2019.

Police said the prestigious Chinese University had “become a manufacturing base for petrol bombs” and the students’ actions were “another step closer to terrorism”.

Around 4,000 people, aged between 12 and 83, have been arrested since the unrest escalated in June.

The demonstrations have paralysed parts of the city and battered the retail and tourism sectors, with widespread disruptions across the financial centre and no end in sight to the violence and vandalism.

Video footage of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army garrison headquarters near Hong Kong’s Central business district on Friday showed more than a dozen troops conducting what appeared to be anti-riot drills against fake protesters carrying black umbrellas.

Protesters have blocked roads and vandalised train lines this week as they have sought to overwhelm
Protesters have blocked roads and vandalised train lines this week as they have sought to overwhelm the police force. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

The Global Times, one of the powerful arms of the Chinese state media, on Thursday fuelled tensions with a tweet reporting that a curfew was imminent.

The Global Times quickly withdrew the tweet and the Hong Kong’s government denied a curfew was planned.

But Chinese state media continued to pile on the pressure on Friday, calling for tougher action from the government and indicating a curfew was still on the cards.

“While it remains to be seen whether a curfew will be introduced, tougher action is undoubtedly called for,” the China Daily, an English-language newspaper, said in an editorial.

READ: Commentary: Are Hong Kong police officers equipped to deal with new wave of protests?

FUTURE IS “BRIGHT”

The protests escalated in June over a now-scrapped extradition Bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial. They have since evolved into calls for greater democracy, among other demands.

Cheng, the embattled Lam’s chief legal adviser, played a key role in pushing forward the proposed extradition Bill that ignited the protests.

protesters with bricks (1)
A protester (C) stands amongst bricks placed on a barricaded street outside The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Nov 15, 2019. (Photo: ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP)

The months-long protests have plunged the former British colony into its biggest political crisis in decades and pose the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. Xi, speaking in Brazil on Thursday, said stopping violence was the most urgent task for Hong Kong.

The territory is also expected to confirm on Friday it has fallen into recession for the first time in a decade amid concerns the economy could be in even worse shape than feared as the protests take a heavy toll.

As Hong Kong's unrest has dragged into a sixth month, violence from both sides has escalated
As Hong Kong’s unrest has dragged into a sixth month, violence from both sides has escalated. (Photo: AFP/Dale de la Rey)

Alibaba Group Chairman Daniel Zhang, however, said Hong Kong’s future is “bright” as the e-commerce giant kicked off a retail campaign for its secondary listing in the city.

Many in Hong Kong are angry at what they see as China stifling freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering in Hong Kong and has blamed Western countries, including Britain and the United States, for stirring up trouble.

A congressional advisory body urged the US Congress on Thursday to enact legislation that would suspend the special economic status Hong Kong enjoys under US law if China deploys forces to crush the protests.

The Hong Kong government reiterated that foreign governments should not interfere in the city’s internal affairs.

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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