Hong Kong: Men in white T-shirts carrying poles are seen after attacking anti-extradition bill demonstrators at a train station on Monday.—Reuters
Hong Kong: Men in white T-shirts carrying poles are seen after attacking anti-extradition bill demonstrators at a train station on Monday.—Reuters

HONG KONG: Anger soared in Hong Kong on Monday over a vicious assault on pro-democracy protesters by suspected triad gangsters that left dozens wounded, a dramatic escalation of the political turmoil plaguing the Chinese city.

The financial hub’s roiling unrest took a dark turn late on Sunday when gangs of men — most wearing white T-shirts and carrying bats, sticks and metal poles — set upon anti-government demonstrators as they returned from another huge march earlier that day.

Footage broadcast live on Facebook showed people screaming as the men beat multiple protesters and journalists in Yuen Long station and inside subway trains, leaving pools of blood on the floor.

Hospital authorities said 45 people were wounded in the attack, with one man in critical condition and five others with serious injuries.

Critics rounded on the city’s embattled police force, accusing officers of taking more than an hour to reach the site and failing to arrest the armed assailants who stayed in the streets around the station into Monday morning.

Some men in white shirts were later filmed leaving the scene in cars with Chinese mainland number plates.

Lam Cheuk-ting, a pro-democracy lawmaker, was one of those wounded in the melee, sustaining lacerations to his face and arms.

He criticised police for their response and accused “triad members” of being behind the attacks.

“Their very barbaric and violent acts have already completely violated the bottom line of Hong Kong’s civilised society,” he told reporters.

Furious fellow pro-democracy lawmakers held a press conference on Monday where they accused the city’s pro-Beijing leaders of turning a blind eye to the attacks.

“This is triad gangs beating up Hong Kong people,” fumed legislator Alvin Yeung. “Yet you pretend nothing had happened?” City police chief Stephen Lo defended his force, saying his officers were busy dealing with violent anti-government protests elsewhere.

“Definitely our manpower is stretched,” he told reporters, describing any suggestion police colluded with triads as a “smear” and adding his officers would pursue the attackers.

A police spokeswoman said late Monday they had arrested five men for “unlawful assembly” over the Yuen Long attacks.

The clashes have ratcheted up concern that the city’s feared triad gangs are wading into the political conflict.

Yuen Long lies in the New Territories near the Chinese border where the criminal gangs and staunchly pro-Beijing rural committees remain influential.

Similar assaults by pro-government vigilantes against demonstrators during the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” protests were blamed on triads.

On Monday afternoon, masked protesters trashed the office of staunch pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho, who was filmed shaking hands with white-shirted men in Yuen Long shortly before Sunday’s violence.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2019