China calls for swift punishment of violent Hong Kong protesters
China says violent protesters must be swiftly punished, after more clashes in the financial hub
BEIJING China yesterday threw its backing behind Hong Kong's beleaguered leader and police, saying violent protesters must be swiftly punished, following another weekend of running street battles in the financial hub.
What began as a mass display of opposition to an extradition bill two months ago has morphed into a wider pro-democracy movement that has thrown down the most significant challenge to Beijing's authority since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. While China has issued condemnations of the protests in the last two weeks, it has largely left the city's pro-Beijing administration to deal with the situation.
Protesters had braced for a potential backlash from Beijing after China's top policy body on Hong Kong affairs called a rare press briefing yesterday.
But the cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office merely reiterated its condemnation of the protests and Beijing's "strong" support for Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and the city's police force, which has been accused of using excessive force against protesters.
"No civilised society or rule of law society will tolerate rampant violence," Mr Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong affairs office, told reporters.
Mr Yang said the violence, which he blamed on a "few radicals", had seriously undermined Hong Kong's prosperity and stability, and "bumped into the bottom line" of the "one country, two systems" principle that governs the financial hub.
RESTORE SOCIAL ORDER
Another spokesman, Ms Xu Luying, added: "We also believe that Hong Kong's top priority task right now is to punish violent and unlawful acts in accordance with the law, to restore social order as soon as possible, and to maintain a good business environment."
Last week, the defence ministry pointed to a Hong Kong law under which the Chinese army could be deployed if city authorities requested support to maintain "public order". When asked under which pre-conditions the military could be deployed, Mr Yang referred to the city's basic law, without elaborating.
Meanwhile, pro-democracy protesters fought a second consecutive day of running battles with police on Sunday evening in a well-heeled residential district of Hong Kong, in some of the most sustained scenes of violence witnessed so far.
The clashes took place close to the Liaison Office, which represents Beijing in the semi-autonomous territory.
In a statement early yesterday, police said 49 "radical protesters" had been arrested for a variety of offences on Sunday, saying the crowds were getting "increasingly violent".
Police said protesters hurled bricks, bottles, paint bombs, corrosive liquids and used a crossbow to fire metal ball bearings. Bows and arrows were also later recovered from the scene, the force said.
Sustained volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets were fired to clear the streets with elite "Raptor" squads arresting those left behind, almost all of them young men and women. Medical authorities said early yesterday that 16 people were injured.
Sunday's violence came a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters holding a banned rally against suspected pro-government triad gangs in a town near the border with mainland China. Police arrested 13 people that day while hospital authorities said 24 people were hurt, two seriously. - AFP