HK police fire shots as protesters turn violent
HONG Kong police fired warning shots and pepper spray early yesterday in the rambunctious Mongkok district after being attacked by hundreds of rioters who interfered with attempts by officials to drive away illegal hawkers, reported the city's media.
The TVB broadcaster showed an officer pointing his gun at crowds of protesters hurling bricks, bottles and pieces of wooden pallets in the worst clashes since the 79-day Occupy Central protests in late 2014, which were aimed at forcing Beijing to grant greater democracy to Hong Kong.
Two shots were heard around 2am at the intersection of Argyle Street and Shanghai Street, reported China's official Xinhua news agency.
Crusade Yau, deputy police commander of Mongkok district, later confirmed "two warning shots" were fired, pointing out that these were to keep back rioters from an officer who had been hurt severely on the head.
He also noted that vehicles were seen delivering things to the mob, which showed that the riot was organised and premeditated.
During a press conference, Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying called the disturbance - which began at 9pm on Monday and lasted till about 8am yesterday morning - a "riot" and vowed that those involved would be apprehended and punished, reported the Sing Tao Daily.
He also stressed that there are strict guidelines for the use of firearms by police and described the riot as having been handled with "restraint".
More than 80 policemen and reporters were injured in the riot and 54 rioters were arrested, including Edward Leung, spokesman for the Hong Kong Indigenous group which promotes localism and greater independence for Hong Kong from mainland China.
Mr Edward Leung, a philosophy student in Hong Kong University, is running for a legislature seat in the New Territories East by-election to be held in three week's time.
The Mongkok riot began with officers from the food and environmental hygiene department chasing away unlicensed hawkers occupying some back alleys on Monday, the first day of the Chinese New Year, reported Sing Tao.
However, a swarm of people in shirts declaring that they were "localists", with some of them wearing masks, suddenly appeared. They encouraged the hawkers to move to another site, ignoring the police who were mediating the dispute, said Xinhua.
The stand-off then turned into clashes when rioters confronted the police with homemade shields, pelted them with projectiles and set fire to garbage bins.
Executive council member Regina Yip yesterday morning called the riot a sequel of the Occupy Central, which also sparked violence in Mongkok. AGENCIES