Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
At least 10 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were injured early Wednesday when they had fireworks shot at them from a moving car.
Footage on social media showed the activists running for cover as the rockets were fired into a crowd outside a police station in Tin Shui Wai, where demonstrators had gathered to show support for their colleagues who were detained inside.
Police said they strongly condemned the violence and are searching for the attackers, who were filmed speeding away from the scene. It’s the second time this month that pro-democracy activists have come under attack: Last week, a mob of men armed with rods and batons stormed a metro station in Yuen Long, attacking protesters who were returning from a demonstration.
The latest violence came amid concerns that Beijing, frustrated by an eight-week crisis that shows no sign of de-escalating, may be gearing up for a more hard-line response to the protest movement.
Those concerns were deepened Tuesday by reports that the White House was monitoring a sudden congregation of Chinese forces at the border with Hong Kong. It’s unclear whether the forces are police or military troops, according to Bloomberg.
While Chinese forces gather at the border, Hong Kong authorities are taking a harder line on protesters through the courts. Forty-four people appeared in court Wednesday, charged with rioting for their role in last Sunday’s protests, which spiraled out of control.
Police and protesters clashed during Sunday’s demonstration, as activists defied police orders to leave the approved protest site and instead marched towards the Chinese government's Liaison Office, the headquarters for Beijing’s presence in the semi-autonomous city. The two sides then clashed in a residential area, with police firing rubber bullets and tear gas, and protesters pushing a burning cart toward the authorities.
The charges against the protesters have sparked further anger, with police and protesters clashing overnight, while hundreds of supporters gathered in solidarity outside the courthouse where the accused appeared Wednesday. Buffeted by typhoon-force winds, the supporters chanted “Release the righteous men” and yelled abuse as they struck a police vehicle.
It’s the first time Hong Kong authorities have charged protesters with rioting since the crisis began. Among the 44 are more than a dozen students, one just 16 years old, who face up to 10 years in jail if found guilty.
Man-kei Tam, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said the “sweeping” charges appeared designed to send “a chilling warning to anyone considering taking part in future protests.”
The charges came after Beijing weighed in Monday with harsh criticism of the protesters, accusing them of committing “evil and criminal acts” and warning that it would not tolerate challenges to its authority over the city, governed under a “one country, two systems” model since it was handed over by Britain in 1997.
“Hong Kong is China's Hong Kong. Hong Kong's affairs are China's domestic affairs,” said Yang Guang, spokesman for Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, in the first briefing his office has given on the crisis.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped “the Chinese will do the right thing” over the Hong Kong protesters. Those comments also drew a sharp response from Beijing, with China’s Foreign Ministry accusing the U.S. of fomenting the protests.
“It’s clear that Mr. Pompeo has put himself in the wrong position and still regards himself as the head of the CIA,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing. "He might think that violent activities in Hong Kong are reasonable, because after all, this is the creation of the U.S.”
China has already blamed unspecified foreign forces for the protests, and lashed out at former colonial power Britain for expressing concerns. But Tuesday marked the first time it had singled out the U.S. by name.
Though multiple videos of Wednesday’s fireworks attack have circulated on social media, police might find it difficult to identify the culprits. According to reports, the vehicle’s plates were registered to a different car model, and none of the clips appeared to show the driver or passengers.
Cover: A bleeding man is taken away by policemen after attacked by protesters outside Kwai Chung police station in Hong Kong, Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Protesters clashed with police again in Hong Kong on Tuesday night after reports that some of their detained colleagues would be charged with the relatively serious charge of rioting. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)