Anti-Occupy groups continued to harass Hong Kong’s pro-democracy students at the Mong Kok protest site Saturday morning local time, with reports of fighting as people attempted to stop activists rebuilding an encampment destroyed by a hundreds-strong mob the previous evening.
Students chanted “call the police” as scuffles broke out and objects were thrown.
Pro-government demonstrators also jeered students as they passed the main Admiralty protest area on Hong Kong Island in a tense procession on Saturday morning.
Members of the anti-Occupy movement have adopted blue ribbons as their symbol in opposition to the yellow ribbons of democracy activists. At stake are opposing views of how China’s most international city should be governed, with the pro-democracy camp demanding a freely elected leader and the anti-Occupy movement insisting upon loyalty to Beijing, which is only prepared to grant Hong Kong limited political autonomy.
Local media reported that 18 were injured and 19 arrested after one of the darkest nights in Hong Kong’s political history. Blue-ribbon factions, in what appear to be coordinated attacks, struck at two pro-democracy sites beginning in the mid-afternoon, hitting and kicking students, tearing down banners and destroying tents. Many assailants were masked.
Students allege that females were being targeted for sexual assault. Amnesty International issued a statement Friday saying that police had “failed in their duty” to protect women and girls from attackers. “The police inaction tonight is shameful,” said Mabel Au, Amnesty’s local director.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong said both local and foreign journalists were attacked and intimidated, with female journalists threatened with sexual assault. It released a statement saying it was “deeply disturbed” by the reports.
There were also reports of attacks on students outside the glitzy Pacific Place mall on Queensway, home to five-star hotels and luxury boutiques.
Local criminal syndicates, known as triads, are widely believed to have participated in the violence. Some of those arrested reportedly had triad affiliations.
Most members of the blue-ribbon mobs, however, appear to working class, conservative Hong Kongers, who regard the student protests as a threat to economic stability when the ruinously high cost of living makes day-to-day survival difficult for many.
“I’m expressing my anger—they are disrupting order” said a woman who identified herself as Liu. The 60-year-old school bus driver had shown up at the Causeway Bay protest site to remonstrate with the students because the Occupy protests had left her out of work.
The police have been criticized for not adequately protecting students during last night’s violence and for double standards in deciding not to use pepper spray on anti-Occupy mobs. This is in contrast to the pepper spraying of students earlier in the week, whose use of umbrellas to protect themselves gave the democracy movement its nickname: the Umbrella Revolution.
“I think the police here cannot protect us anymore,” said a protester surnamed Fong, who declined to give their first name. The 24-year-old civil servant said last night’s violence “told me I cannot be safe in Hong Kong.”
Leading student activist, Joshua Wong of the group Scholarism, told local media that “The police clearly have double standards. We are very angry, but we will keep the protests peaceful.”
The lack of an official condemnation of blue-ribbon violence has been conspicuous. The police issued a general appeal to people “to express their views in a peaceful and rational manner,” while Chief Secretary Carrie Lam asked for democracy protesters to withdraw from the Mong Kok site after yesterday’s clashes. But neither referred specifically to anti-Occupy elements.
The government meanwhile issued a hardline statement Friday attacking student demonstrators as “inhumane” and “worse than that of radical social activists,” and accusing them of creating “almost complete anarchy.”
The harsh wording appears at odds with the widely reported peaceful and well-organized nature of the democracy protests.
Proposed talks between students and the government have been canceled in the wake of Friday’s attacks. The city remains tense with further rallies planned later Saturday by anti-Occupy groups.
Paul Zimmerman, a district councilor who daringly stole the show during official National Day celebrations by unfurling a yellow umbrella in support of the students, called on activists to consolidate protests in the main Admiralty site and avoid further “violence by provocateurs.”
“Keep up your presence, but try to give people the street back,” he said. Otherwise, he fears “It’s all going to be ugly.”
—With reporting by Elizabeth Barber, Rishi Iyengar and David Stout