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Hundreds of protesters staged a sit-in in a Hong Kong metro station Wednesday night to protest the police’s response to an organized mob attack by suspected triads on demonstrators a month earlier.
On July 21, more than 100 men in white T-shirts, many suspected to be triad gang members, stormed Yuen Long metro station and staged a vicious attack, indiscriminately beating people returning from demonstrations in the city with metal pipes and clubs. It remains the most violent episode in Hong Kong’s two months of political unrest. Forty-five people — among them protesters, journalists, commuters, and a politician — were hospitalized after the attack, some of them with serious injuries.
But a month later, no-one had been charged, prompting demonstrators to return to the scene of the violence Wednesday night to demand justice. Dressed in black and wearing masks, the protesters observed a moment of silence, each holding a hand over an eye — a reference to a woman who may have lost the use of her eye after being injured at a protest and has become a symbol of the pro-democracy movement.
The protesters’ attempt to pressure police appears to have worked. On Thursday afternoon, police announced that two men had been charged with rioting over their alleged participation in the Yuen Long attack. The two men, 48 and 54, are due to appear in court Friday.
After the silent protest, a tense standoff developed with police, and the protesters formed barricades and blocked station exits. Some sprayed fire extinguishers and poured cooking oil on the station floor in a bid to prevent the police from advancing.
Government officials said the activists’ actions had prompted them to conduct “a dispersal operation, using minimum force.” After an hour, the standoff ended without major clashes between the camps.
Protesters have fiercely criticized police for their response to the violence in Yuen Long. Police confirmed last month that they had received intelligence that the attack was likely to take place, but assessed it to be of low risk. Then, they took nearly an hour to arrive at the scene while the attack was happening, turning up only after the perpetrators had left. And while 28 people were arrested in the subsequent days, some of whom had triad connections, they were all released on bail without charge.
One of the protesters, who gave his name as John, told public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong that locals were frustrated as they had given police the names of “white shirts” they recognized from footage of the attack, but no action had been taken.
Triads — a mafia-like network of gangs — have been involved in attacks on pro-democracy protesters before, with triad-affiliated individuals arrested for inciting violence against demonstrators during the “umbrella movement” in 2014.
Yuen Long is a town situated in the northwest of Hong Kong's New Territories. Many surrounding villages have strong triad connections, and are home to conservatives who support the pro-Beijing establishment.
Cover: Demonstrators stand on turnstiles during a protest at the Yuen Long MTR station in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. Hong Kong riot police faced off with protesters occupying a suburban train station Wednesday evening following a commemoration of a violent attack there by masked assailants on supporters of the anti-government movement. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)