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Riot police fire tear gas at Hong Kong protesters defying police ban

Thousands of protesters defied a police ban today.

Protesters hoist a U.S. flag as they face off with riot police
Protesters hoist a U.S. flag as they face off with riot police
Image: Bobby Yip/PA Images

RIOT POLICE HAVE fired tear gas at protesters marching through a Hong Kong town near the Chinese border to rally against suspected triad gangs who beat up pro-democracy demonstrators last weekend.

Images broadcast on multiple television stations showed repeated rounds of tear gas fired at the crowds in Yuen Long after tense standoffs with protesters, some of whom were throwing projectiles at police and had surrounded a police van.

Thousands of protesters defied a police ban today as public anger rises since last Sunday when a gang of men in white t-shirts, armed with poles and batons, set upon anti-government protesters and bystanders in Yuen Long station, leaving at least 45 people needing hospital treatment.

The brazen assault was the latest escalation in seven weeks of unprecedented political violence that shows little sign of abating as the city’s pro-Beijing leaders refuse to budge. 

Hong Kong has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history after millions of demonstrators took to the streets – and sporadic violent confrontations erupted between police and pockets of hardcore protesters.

The demonstrations were triggered by a controversial bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.  

Police have been heavily criticised for being too slow to respond to Sunday’s violence, fueling accusations of collusion or turning a blind eye to the pro-government mob — allegations the force has denied.

Pokemon and shopping sprees

In a rare move, police have banned today’s rally saying that they feared reprisal attacks against villagers from protesters.

Social messaging channels used to organise the largely leaderless movement quickly filled up with vows from people to join in. 

Some suggested holding a “shopping spree” in Yuen Long, others for a mass gathering of Pokemon Go, a popular mobile phone game. 

Huge crowds spilled out of Yuen Long’s main station this afternoon and into surrounding streets where police maintained a large presence but kept their distance. Many shops were shuttered.

“Everyone of us came here on our own initiation,” a 25-year-old medical worker surnamed Ng, told AFP. “So I don’t think this is an illegal assembly, I’ve just come here as an individual to tell people my thoughts.”

Another woman, surnamed Cheung, said she wanted to show “we are not afraid and that Hong Kongers won’t cower in fear”.

“The police and (the government) are together suppressing people’s freedom to express their views,” she added.

Large plastic barriers filled with water surrounded the local police station which was shuttered. The most common chant outside was “hak ging” – black cops – a pun on the a phrase to describe triads: black societies. 

Yuen Long is in Hong Kong’s New Territories, a rural area where many of the surrounding villages are known for triad connections and their staunch support for the pro-Beijing establishment. 

© – AFP 2019

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