Hong Kong violence intensifies during 10th weekend of protests
By VENUS FENG AND SHERYL TIAN TONG LEE | Bloomberg | Published: August 11, 2019
HONG KONG — Hong Kong authorities deployed more aggressive tactics during the 10th straight weekend of anti-China protests, with riot police recorded beating demonstrators in subway stations and officers going undercover to infiltrate the group and make arrests.
The violent scenes emerged as protesters used flash mobs across the city, surrounding police stations, disrupting traffic, and hurling projectiles including bricks and petrol bombs. One officer was taken to the hospital after suffering burns in the upmarket shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui. Mob violence broke out elsewhere.
Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets at various locations - including inside a metro station for the first time. Dramatic videos showed riot police firing weapons at close range and beating some protesters, many of whom wore yellow hard hats and gas masks. Some 13 protesters were injured, including two in serious condition, RTHK reported, citing hospital authorities.
The protests, sparked in June by a bill easing extraditions to the mainland, have evolved into the biggest challenge to Chinese control since the U.K. relinquished its former colony in 1997. The social unrest is having an increasing impact on the economy and daily life in one of the world's most densely populated cities, raising concern that Beijing will use force to restore order.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has refused to yield to a series of demands, including that she withdraw the bill and step down from her position. Authorities in Beijing remain supportive of her government, which has warned of an economic crisis if the demonstrations drag on.
The protesters are resorting to flash mobs and violence as their numbers decline, which will diminish support for the movement among the broader public in the coming months, according to Steve Vickers, chief executive officer of risk consultancy Steve Vickers and Associates and a former head of the Royal Hong Kong Police Criminal Intelligence Bureau.
"The government's policy of sitting on their hands and hiding behind the police is actually working," Vickers told Bloomberg Television on Monday.
"Last night's pictures are pretty ugly, but this morning the city is functioning as if nothing had happened," he said. "The stock exchange is open, traffic is running, everybody's gone back to work. So it's easy to see these pictures and form perhaps a wrong impression of what's going on here."
Authorities had denied permits for protests in all but Victoria Park, but demonstrators took to the streets anyway. Police made more arrests on Sunday after detaining 16 people on Saturday, with local media reporting that officers may be dressing as protesters and infiltrating their ranks to help with detentions.
By Sunday night, a three-day sit in at Hong Kong's international airport was winding down. Thousands of demonstrators had greeted passengers with "Free Hong Kong" chants. Only departing passengers with tickets or boarding passes and valid travel documents were being allowed to enter the check-in area at Terminal 1.
China's civil aviation authority told Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong's main airline, to ban all employees who supported or joined the recent protests from flying to the mainland, one of the strongest signs yet that Beijing is losing its patience with the demonstrations.
Cathay suspended a pilot from flying who had been detained while participating in a protest, the airline said in a statement. It also fired two workers for "misconduct." They allegedly leaked information about the travel arrangements of a Hong Kong police soccer team, the South China Morning Post reported.
"As always our actions and responsibilities are focused on the safety and security of our operations," the airline said.
This weekend's protests come days after a general strike that disrupted the financial hub's morning rush hour, leaving traffic jammed, subway lines suspended and dozens of flights canceled. Those demonstrations also ended in tear gas and dispersal operations.