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Hong Kong Police Criticised Over Failure To Stop Attacks On Protesters

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Hong Kong police faced criticism on Monday for an apparent failure to protect anti-government protesters and passersby from attack by what opposition politicians suspected were gang members at a train station on the weekend.

The attack on Sunday came during a night of escalating violence that opened new fronts in Hong Kong’s widening political crisis over an extradition bill that could see people sent to China for trial.

Protesters had earlier on Sunday surrounded China’s main representative office in the city and defaced walls and signs and clashed with police.

The city’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, condemned the attack on China’s main office in the city, the Central Government Liaison Office, saying it was a “challenge” to national sovereignty.

She condemned violent behaviour of any kind and said she had been shocked by the clashes at the station, adding that police would investigate fully.

“Violence will only breed more violence,” Lam said while flanked by senior city officials.

Some politicians and activists have linked Hong Kong’s shadowy network of triad criminal gangs to political intimidation and violence in recent years, sometimes against pro-democracy activists and critics of Beijing.

On Sunday night, scores of men in white T-shirts, some armed with clubs, flooded into the rural Yuen Long station, and stormed a train, attacking passengers with pipes, poles and other objects, according to video footage.

Witnesses, including Democratic lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, said the men appeared to target black-shirted passengers who had been at an anti-government march.

Lawmaker Lam, who was wounded in the face and hospitalised, said the police ignored calls he made, pleading with them to intervene to prevent bloodshed.

“They deliberately turned a blind eye to these attacks by triads on regular citizens,” he said, noting that the floors of the station were streaked with blood.

“I won’t speculate on why they didn’t help immediately,” he said.

No fewer than 45 people were injured in the violence at the station, with one in critical condition, according to hospital authorities.

Hong Kong’s police chief Stephen Lo, asked about concern police had been slow to respond to the clash at the station, said there had been a need to “redeploy manpower from other districts”.

“Police stations nearby had closed given the risk of unrest, and a patrol on the scene needed to wait for reinforcements.

”We will pursue at all costs to bring the offenders to justice,” he said, while pledging to restore public confidence in the police force.

Some banks and shops in the area closed early on Monday amid fears of more trouble.

Hong Kong’s anti-triad police units in 2014 investigated the role of triad gangs attacking protesters during the pro-democracy demonstrations that shut down parts of the city for 79 days that year.

Hong Kong has been rocked by a series of sometimes violent protests for more than two months in its most serious crisis since Britain handed the Asian financial hub back to Chinese rule in 1997.

Under the terms of the handover, Hong Kong was allowed to retain extensive freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a “one country, two systems” formula, including an independent judiciary and the right to protest.

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