Asia Pacific

Three people in critical condition as attacker bites politician's ear, others slashed in Hong Kong

Reuters, AP

Three people were in critical condition in Hong Kong on Monday, authorities said, after a weekend of chaotic clashes with anti-government protesters that led China to call for a tougher stance to end months of unrest in the Asian financial hub.

The injuries were the result of yet another weekend of violence in the former British colony. Riot police stormed several shopping malls packed with families and children including Cityplaza in the eastern suburb of Taikoo Shing on Sunday.

Protesters there had initially formed a human chain before facing off with police in skirmishes up and down escalators and spraying graffiti on a restaurant.

A man with a knife slashed several people and bit off part of a politician’s ear. The wounded included a man believed to be the knife-wielder, whom protesters had beaten with sticks.

The city’s Hospital Authority said three people were in critical condition, with two others in serious condition, among a total of 30 injuries from Sunday.

A student at Shue Yan University was hit by a tear gas canister and suffered a severe burn in a separate incident at the weekend, the university’s student union said in a statement.

While the Chinese-controlled city and its many businesses function normally during the week, many protests have sprung up spontaneously at weekends over the past five months.

Television footage showed a knife-wielding man biting the ear of district councilor Andrew Chiu, who had tried to stop him from leaving after the stabbings. The attacker was then badly beaten up by a crowd before police arrived.

The attack came late Sunday, a day in which protesters had been urged online to gather at seven locations, including malls, to sustain a push for political reform.

Most of the rallies didn’t pan out as scores of riot police took positions, searching and arresting people, dispersing crowds and blocking access to a park next to the office of the city’s leader, Carrie Lam.

Some small pockets of hard-core demonstrators were undeterred.

As protesters chanted slogans at the New Town Plaza shopping mall in Sha Tin, police said they moved in after some “masked rioters” with fire extinguishers vandalized turnstiles and smashed windows at the subway station linked to the mall.

At two malls in the New Territories in the north, protesters vandalized shops, threw paint and attacked a branch of Japanese fast food chain Yoshinoya, which has been frequently targeted after the chain’s owner voiced support for the Hong Kong police.

Police rushed into one of the malls after objects were thrown at them. At another, protesters used umbrellas and cable ties to lock the mall entrance to prevent police from entering.

In early hours Monday, police fired tear gas after some protesters threw bricks and other objects at them in another district. One woman was injured after she reportedly jumped off a balcony to escape the tear gas, local media said.

On Saturday, protesters attacked the Hong Kong office of China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency in a show of anger against Beijing, a day after China warned of tightening its grip on the city to quell the unrest.

Xinhua in a statement strongly condemned the “barbaric acts of mobs” that had vandalized and set fire to the lobby of its Asia-Pacific office building. The Hong Kong Journalists Association also deplored “any act of sabotage against the media” and called for an end to violence against the press.

Protesters have frequently targeted Chinese banks and businesses. In July, demonstrators threw eggs at China’s liaison office in Hong Kong and defaced the Chinese national emblem in a move slammed by Beijing as a direct challenge to its authority.

On Friday, the Communist Party in Beijing vowed to “establish and strengthen a legal system and enforcement mechanism” to prevent foreign powers from sowing acts of “separatism, subversion, infiltration and sabotage” in Hong Kong.

Protesters have circulated plans on social media to mark Guy Fawkes Day on Tuesday by putting on now-banned face masks in areas around Hong Kong.

Many people taking to the streets in recent weeks have worn the white, smiling Guy Fawkes masks made popular by anti-establishment hackers and the film “V for Vendetta.”

The masks have also become common at protests globally, including in Britain and across the United States.

Lam invoked colonial-era emergency powers last month for the first time in more than 50 years, banning face masks in a move to quell the protests.

Protesters have largely ignored the ruling and worn masks.

The protests began in early June over a now-shelved plan to allow extraditions to mainland China but have since swelled into a movement seeking other demands, including direct elections for Hong Kong’s leaders and an independent inquiry into police conduct.

Lam has refused to budge and instead has focused on measures that she said contributed to protesters’ anger, such as creating jobs and easing housing woes in one of the world’s most expensive cities. She invoked emergency powers last month to ban face masks at rallies, provoking further anger.

Her office said Sunday that Lam, currently in Shanghai, will head to Beijing on Tuesday. She is due to hold talks Wednesday with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng and join a meeting on the development of the Greater Bay Area that aims to link Hong Kong, Macao and nine other cities in southern China.

The project will help make it easier for Hong Kong residents to work and reside in mainland Chinese cities, and bolster the flow of people and goods, Lam’s office said in a statement.

But the plan has also sparked concerns over China’s growing influence over the territory. Many protesters fear Beijing is slowly infringing on the freedoms guaranteed to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.

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