Almost 90 police officers injured in Hong Kong CNY riot
Almost 90 police officers, dozens of protesters injured after illegal hawkers go on rampage
Hong Kong's police chief has defended his officer who fired in the air to control the rioters attacking an injured policeman.
The city descended into chaos late on Monday night after officials attempted to move illegal hawkers from the busy Mong Kok district.
Police said nearly 90 of their officers were injured, many by broken glass or projectiles, while dozens of protesters were hurt, AFP reported.
One officer was seen pointing his gun at crowds who hurled stones, bottles and pieces of wooden pallets at police.
Officers fired at least two warning shots in the air, multiple news outlets reported. They also used pepper spray in chaotic scenes.
Commissioner Stephen Lo said of the officer who fired the warning shots: "With no alternative, his police colleague used his firearm in accordance with the use of force principles to prevent his fellow colleague from being further attacked."
The police chief said there will be a full investigation.
Social media dubbed the riots "fishball revolution".
Police said 54 protesters aged between 15 and 70 were arrested for assaulting police, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct in a public place, among other offences.
"We will consider charging the arrested persons for participating in a riot," Mr Lo said. This carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
The South China Morning Post reported that the riot erupted after Portland Street hawkers were inspected by hygiene officers and told to shut down.
The food and environment hygiene department officials were surrounded and the police had to be called in.
The situation escalated after two hours of protests turned into riots in the streets, which lasted until about 8am yesterday.
Cable TV cameraman Cheng Hon Keung was one of the journalists injured during the rioting. Yesterday morning, he was hit on the left side of his jaw by a flying brick.
"I was already hiding in the corner and it just came flying towards me sideways," he said outside Queen Elizabeth Hospital, adding that he was wearing a helmet.
Ms Kaki Tse, who was on her way to work in Mong Kok, said she was shocked to see such scenes in Hong Kong.
"I was walking to the restaurant I work at when I saw masked people throwing rocks and other objects. I was frightened, so I immediately walked away," she said.
Reports said demonstrators included members of radical "localist" groups - which stress Hong Kong's separate identity from the mainland - and they tried to defend the hawkers, whom they said added to the festive atmosphere.
As dawn broke over Mong Kok yesterday, the district regained a sense of calm but still bore the scars of a night of chaos. Streets were burnt and pavements ripped up to be used as crude missiles in street battles.
At Soy Street, epicentre of the violence, the street sign had been wrenched from the concrete in an attempt to turn it into a weapon.
While Chinese New Year shopping carried on around the popular area, the mood had shifted noticeably.
Police patrolled the streets with dogs and government officials put up signs asking the public not to buy from street food vendors.