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HK police criticised over failure to stop attacks on protesters

Night of violence ends with attack on protesters at train station by masked men in white T-shirts

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police faced criticism yesterday for an apparent failure to protect anti-government protesters and passers-by from attack by what opposition politicians suspected were gang members at a train station.

The attack on Sunday came during a night of escalating violence that opened new fronts in Hong Kong's widening political crisis over an extradition bill that could see people sent to China for trial.

Protesters had earlier on Sunday surrounded China's main representative office in the city and defaced walls and signs and clashed with police.

The city's Beijing-backed leader, Ms Carrie Lam, condemned the attack on China's main office in the city, the Central Government Liaison Office, saying it was a "challenge" to national sovereignty.

She condemned violent behaviour and said she had been shocked by the clashes at the train station, adding police would investigate fully.

"Violence will only breed more violence," Ms Lam said at a press conference, while flanked by senior city officials.

Some politicians and activists have linked Hong Kong's shadowy network of triad criminal gangs to political intimidation and violence in recent years, sometimes against pro-democracy activists and critics of Beijing.

TRAIN ATTACK

On Sunday night, scores of men in white T-shirts, some armed with clubs, flooded into the rural Yuen Long station and stormed a train, attacking passengers with pipes, poles and other objects, according to video footage.

Witnesses, including Democratic lawmaker Lam Cheuk Ting, said the men appeared to target black-shirted passengers who had been at an anti-government march.

Mr Lam, who was wounded in the face and hospitalised, said the police ignored calls he made, pleading with them to intervene to prevent bloodshed.

"They deliberately turned a blind eye to these attacks by triads on regular citizens," he told Reuters, saying the floors of the station were streaked with blood. "I won't speculate on why they didn't help immediately," he said.

Forty-five people were injured in the violence at the station, with one in critical condition, according to hospital authorities.

Hong Kong's police chief Stephen Lo, when asked about concern that police had been slow to respond to the clash at the station, said there had been a need to "redeploy manpower from other districts".

Police stations nearby had closed given the risk of unrest, and a patrol on the scene needed to wait for reinforcements, he said.

"We will pursue at all costs to bring the offenders to justice," he told reporters, while pledging to restore public confidence in the police force.

Asked by a reporter if police had colluded with triads at the station, Mr Lo said the force had no links to triads.

The Chinese government, including office director Wang Zhimin, condemned the turmoil, which included spray-painting and hurling eggs at walls and a national emblem at the office, saying the behaviour challenged the "authority and dignity" of the Chinese government. - REUTERS

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