‘Brink of total collapse’: Hong Kong police issue dire warning

Further clashes and transport chaos after day of violence on which protester shot

Eyewitness footage captures a police officer shooting a protester in Hong Kong. Police claim that the protester, who was taken to hospital with serious injuries, was attempting to snatch the police officer's gun. Video: Cupid Producer/Reuters


Hong Kong was on the “brink of total collapse”, the territory’s police warned on Tuesday as a second day of violence pushed the five-month crisis towards a new and more dangerous phase.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters in the city’s financial district and at university campuses, a day after the shooting by police of a demonstrator unleashed a fresh wave of violence that continued late into the night.

At the Chinese University of Hong Kong, tear gas was fired as its vice-chancellor was trying to negotiate between student protesters and the authorities. “The police should not attack the campus and its students,” said one young protester at CUHK. “It is no different from June 4,” he added, referring to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.

The city’s transport infrastructure was badly hit for a second day, with multiple metro stations closed and trains cancelled, forcing some commuters to walk along rail tracks. Many schools were also closed across the city.

“Over the past two days, our society has been pushed to the brink of a total breakdown as rioters went on a rampage in residential neighbourhoods and university campuses,” Kong Wing-cheung, a senior police superintendent, told a press conference on Tuesday. “Rule of law has been pushed to the brink of total collapse as mass rioters recklessly escalate their violence under the false hope that they can get away with it.”

Appeal for calm

The latest disruption came as the US appealed for calm on both sides following a steep escalation of violence since pro-democracy protests began in June. The latest clashes were in response to the death on Friday of 22-year-old Chow Tsz-lok, in what is being treated by some protesters as the first fatality of the crisis.

A total of 128 people were hospitalised following Monday’s clashes, including a man who was set alight by people following scuffles with protesters. A police officer was also suspended after video footage appeared to show him riding his motorbike into a number of protesters. The shot protester and the man who was set alight were both in a critical condition, according to Hong Kong’s hospital authority.

Riot police detained a student during clashes at the Chinese University in Hong Kong. Photograph: Steve Leung/HK01 via AP
Riot police detained a student during clashes at the Chinese University in Hong Kong. Photograph: Steve Leung/HK01 via AP

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, called protesters “extremely selfish” for paralysing the transport network. A day earlier, she had branded them “enemies of the people” who would never achieve their aims through violence.

Ms Lam also confirmed that the city would push ahead with local elections on November 24th that are the first big test of public opinion since the anti-government protests began. More than 100 public figures including Hong Kong’s former finance secretary had signed a newspaper advert demanding that the elections went ahead to prevent further divisions in society.

“We will try our very best to ensure the election will continue in a safe and orderly manner,” Ms Lam said. The latest Hong Kong Public Opinion Program released on Tuesday showed Ms Lam’s approval rating had slumped below 20 per cent, as her status as the most unpopular chief executive in the territory’s history fell to a record low.

Attacks on candidates

A record number of pro-democracy candidates are standing in the elections and there has been an increase in voter registrations. But there have been at least eight attacks on pro-democracy figures and candidates recently. In addition, Junius Ho, an outspoken pro-establishment lawmaker, was stabbed last week while campaigning.

A US state department spokeswoman said Washington was watching the situation with “grave concern”, adding that the polarisation underscored the need for dialogue between the government and the protesters.

“We condemn violence on all sides, extend our sympathies to victims of violence regardless of their political inclinations, and call for all parties – police and protesters – to exercise restraint,” the spokeswoman said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019