Hong Kong’s embattled leadership slammed protesters as “thugs” and “rioters” after weekend protests descended into violence that left dozens hospitalized — including one police officer who had part of his finger bitten off.
The comments are likely to escalate an already tense situation, with pro-democracy activists calling for a change in leadership to prevent Beijing from tightening its grip on Hong Kong.
Tens of thousands of people protested peacefully in the northern town of Sha Tin on Sunday. But as has happened at a number of the protest marches that have dominated Hong Kong for the last month, violence broke out late in the day.
After an hours-long standoff on the streets, riot police chased protesters into a shopping center. Police used truncheons and pepper spray against protesters, who threw objects such as umbrellas and plastic water bottles at them.
Police commissioner Stephen Lo labeled the protesters “thugs” and said Monday that some of them violently kicked and beat a policeman who fell to the ground in the shopping center.
“The mob lost the run of themselves, and their behavior was horrendous,” Lo said at a press briefing Monday.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam, meanwhile, doubled down on her previous controversial criticism of protestors, labeling them “rioters.” Lam, who's faced calls to step down from her post, was speaking with reporters during a visit to a Tai Po hospital, where she spoke with three policemen who were injured in violent clashes with protesters in Sha Tin.
“We thank the police officers for maintaining social order loyally and professionally, but they have suffered in attacks from those rioters [and] they can be called rioters,” Lam said.
The clashes on Sunday left 22 people in hospital, two of them in critical condition.
It was a violent weekend. On Saturday, police clashed with protesters who refused to leave after a protest march in the border town of Sheung Shui. Police used pepper spray and batons on the protesters, arresting 40 of them.
Police commissioner Lo said that at least 10 policemen were injured, including one who had a section of his ring finger bitten off by a protester.
The protests, which began over a month ago, were sparked by the introduction of a controversial extradition bill that critics say would allow Beijing to arbitrarily extradite criminal suspects to mainland China, threatening Hong Kong’s independence and rule of law.
Lam said last week that the bill was “dead,” but this has not appeased activists, who want her to withdraw the bill entirely so that it can’t be resurrected. They also want authorities to drop charges laid against protesters during marches last month, when the chief executive controversially labeled them as “rioters.”
Lam apologized for using the term, but on Monday she had no qualms about applying the same label to those involved in this weekend’s clashes.
The protesters have been calling for Lam’s resignation, because they blame her for the bill’s introduction. But it appears that resigning is not that easy: The Financial Times reported over the weekend that Lam has repeatedly offered to step down over the protests, but her offers have been rejected by Beijing.
The chief executive’s office dismissed the reports as “groundless,” and Lam said Monday that she was committed to staying in the job until her term finishes in 2022.
Cover: Riot policemen use shields to protect themselves from things thrown by protecters outside a shopping mall in Sha Tin District in Hong Kong, Sunday, July 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)