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Tear gas, pepper spray, arrests as Hong Kong protesters mark 8 months since Yuen Long mob attack

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Rachel Wong | Hong Kong Free Press

A District Council chair was among those arrested as police fired tear gas and pepper spray to break up a protest on Saturday, eight months after the Yuen Long mob attack.

Last July, over 100 white-clad men indiscriminately attacked passengers and protesters with rods and other weapons in and around Yuen Long MTR station. Reporters and pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting were among the 40 injured, as police were criticised as being slow to respond.

Over the past seven months, the MTR Corporation has closed Yuen Long station early during each anniversary of the incident in view of monthly commemorative sit-ins and protests. At 4 pm on Saturday, several MTR exits were closed.

At around 8:10 pm, HKFP witnessed a reporter and passerby being stopped and searched by police after they left a convenience store.

They were later released, though another arrest took place nearby.

Yuen Long’s transport interchange has long been the home of a large pro-democracy Lennon Wall, with messages of support for the anti-extradition law movement.

However, on Saturday, many of the pro-democracy messages were replaced with pro-government posters. Messages called protesters “rioters,” took aim at democrat Lam Cheuk-ting, and called for the legislation of the Article 23 national security law. As some protesters attempted to remove the new posters, police officers shouted: “Do not litter.”

One protester dressed as “No-Face” – a character from Japanese anime Spirited Away – held a sign saying “July 21st, Hong Kong is dead” inside nearby YOHO shopping mall. He covered his left eye – a gesture of support for protesters injured by police projectiles.

He covered his left eye – a gesture of support for protesters injured by police projectiles.

Yan San Street clashes

Pro-democracy protesters convened at Yau San Street, chanting slogans such as “five demands, not one less.” Protests since last June have escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behavior, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment.

Photos of high-ranking officials including police chief Chris Tang, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho were placed on the floor forming a hopscotch pattern for protesters to tread on and vent their anger. Some wielded “Hong Kong independence” flags.

Demonstrators are demanding an independent probe into the police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.”

At 8:50 pm, 50 special tactical officers stormed into the area from police vehicles parked at Castle Peak Road, prompting the crowd to retreat from the main road.

An HKFP reporter on the scene witnessed a blind person with a walking stick being knocked over by the group of officers.

Protesters blocked traffic with garbage and metal fencing removed from the pavements at the junction of Yau San Street and Fau Tsoi Street. They also set debris alight near Kin Yip Street.

Around 100 riot police and special tactical officers stopped and searched passersby including District Councillor Lam Chun near Kin Yip Street Playground, as they repeatedly asked reporters to move back. Tear gas was deployed at least twice during the evening – on Hop Yick Road and around Fung Kam Street.

‘Arbitrary arrest’

Later on, democrats published a joint statement to “condemn police abuse.” The wrote that dozens of district councilors had arrived on the scene to monitor the situation as there were claims online that certain parties were ready to “defend their homeland” – a phrase used by lawmaker Junius Ho to justify the 2019 mob attack.

“The police dispersal and unreasonable arrest of Yuen Long District Council chair Zachary Wong are the equivalents of blatantly trampling upon public representatives… Arbitrary arrests have irreversibly exacerbated police-public relations…” the statement read.

In the evening, chairs and vice-chairs of 17 district councils and democrats of Islands council co-signed the statement.

Throughout the night, pepper spray was frequently deployed. A number of reporters, including Ronson Chan from Stand News, and pro-democracy lawmakers Ted Hui and Roy Kwong were hit.

Riot police deployed pepper spray outside Times Square mall to disperse demonstrators.

Police chief Chris Tang said in an interview with Ming Pao last Monday that there was room for improvement with regards to the police operation last July. Quicker response, deployment, communication, and explanations were among areas that could be improved.

He also told Now TV on Saturday that some complaints made against the police among the 1,600 files were confirmed to be factually true.

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