Hong Kong’s embattled police force faced a barrage of criticism on Monday for failing to stop a rampaging mob of men, who attacked anti-government protesters and terrorised passengers at a train station on Sunday night.
About 30 protesters demonstrated at a police station in northern Hong Kong on Monday, and accused officers of colluding with those who carried out the attack.
The group claimed police failed to act in a timely manner when scores of thugs dressed in white T-shirts descended into Yuen Long MTR station and attacked passengers, especially those in black T-shirts.
It is believed they wanted to target those who were on their way home from the extradition bill march in Causeway Bay earlier that day.
Chief Superintendent John Tse Chun-chung, head of the police public relations bureau, denied the accusations, despite it taking officers more than half an hour to arrive at the scene.
“I cannot agree. Just because we were not at the scene right away, doesn’t mean we colluded with any party,” he said in a radio programme.
The protest at the police station in Yuen Long was organised by pan-democratic lawmakers and district councillors, who accused police of turning a blind eye to the violence, and handed in a letter that outlined their grievances.
Yuen Long District commander Lee Wai-man, who received the letter, said police had been unable to keep up with the number of 999 calls they received about the incident.
“We will do our utmost to keep residents safe,” he said, and added that the force had not received any intelligence regarding any fresh attacks on Monday.
Pan-democratic lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, representing New Territories West, was critical of the police response and failure to keep residents safe.
“Police didn’t show up while thugs rampaged through the station and attacked Yuen Long residents indiscriminately last night,” he said. “There is clear collusion between police and the gangs.”
Legislator Roy Kwong Chun-yu, who also represents the local district, described events in Yuen Long as a “lawless situation”.
“Some said it was terrorism, I don’t think that’s an exaggeration at all,” he said. “It took the firefighters only six minutes to come to the scene after taking the call. Why did the police sit on their hands?”
MTR Corporation, management at Yoho shopping centre, which is next to the station, and some witnesses said police did not respond in a timely fashion.
Yoho Mall, where some of the attacks took place, said it tried to report the incident to police, but they could not be reached. The centre said residents eventually helped take care of the injured, and provided them with water and first aid.
Alan Cheng Kwan-hing, the rail operator’s chief of operating, said in a separate radio programme on Monday that the corporation had contacted police at 10.47pm, but it took officers some time to arrive at Yuen Long station.
“I was anxiously waiting for the police,” said Cheng, who said he had been in the Tsing Yi control room.
He added that MTR staff had sought help again, even after reporting the matter to police.
Two major rounds of fights broke out at Yuen Long station, before 11pm and again near midnight. In the last round of fighting, thugs broke through an entrance gate, chased after passengers and attacked them with rods and rattan canes.
Tse believed the incidents stemmed from a clash between groups that held different political views.
He said police received calls for help at 10.45pm, and two officers arrived at scene in seven minutes. The pair were seen leaving the scene when the attacks took place.
Tse said the officers found about 100 people were fighting, and requested more help because of the large number of people involved.
“While waiting for extra manpower, the two officers stayed outside the station for their own safety and evaluated the situation. This is an appropriate decision,” he said.
Even though the pair were equipped with guns, Tse said it was riskier to use them because of the size of the crowd.
More officers arrived at the station over half an hour later at 11.20pm, because at the same time other officers were dealing with fights and fires elsewhere, he said.
After midnight, the police arrived at Nam Pin Wai village near the station, where there were two groups of people confronting each other, including some in white T-shirts.
Tse said the police could not ascertain if those in white T-shirts had been involved in the violence at the station, and no arrests were made.
“The police will arrest suspects when evidence warrants it,” he said.
A witness said a pregnant woman was also chased, and used her body to protect her partner from the thugs, but there were no police officers around for protection.
“I was calming her down as she was frightened and had breathing problem after she lost contact with the partner in the station,” the witness said. “Why did the gang in white T-shirts even target pregnant women?”
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