Police in Hong Kong say they are investigating a drive-by attack in which crowds of protesters were hit with fireworks.
At least six people were injured late on Tuesday night when anonymous assailants shot fireworks from passing cars at a demonstration near a police station. The attacks are likely to sow further confusion amid the escalating crisis in Hong Kong, after protesters were targeted last week by a mob linked to triad gangs.
Violent clashes ending in injuries and arrests are occurring nearly every day now in the former British colony as protesters angry with the government continue to go head-to-head with the police. Tuesday’s attacks happened as protests broke out earlier in the evening after police announced that 44 people out of 49 arrested during demonstrations on Sunday night – when police fired near-continuous volleys of tear gas – would be charged with rioting, an offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Charges were read against 23 people on Wednesday, accused of setting up road blocks, breaking fences, damaging street signs, and attacking police officers with “lethal weapons,” such as bricks, the police said in a statement. All were released on bail with sentencing scheduled for Sept. 25; a court date has not yet been announced for the remaining arrested individuals.
Despite an onslaught of heavy rain as a typhoon neared, supporters assembled outside the court in the morning, chanting “Reclaim Hong Kong, the revolution of our time!”
Rioting is the most serious charge brought by the authorities since mass demonstrations broke out early June, plunging Hong Kong into its worst political turmoil since the former British colony was returned to Beijing.
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It’s likely to further enrage protesters, who first demanded the formal withdrawal of an extradition bill that would send suspects to face trial in mainland China, where Communist Party control of the courts contributes to a 99.9 per-cent conviction rate.
Protesters have since expanded their demands to include the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam, the convening of an independent commission to investigate police brutality against the protesters, and the release of those arrested – at least 170 people so far.
Continuing unrest is fuelling concerns that China’s central government in Beijing might deploy the military, which would be reminiscent of the 1989 bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square.
The US government is monitoring a congregation of Chinese forces along the border to Hong Kong, though the nature of the build-up isn’t clear, reported Bloomberg, citing an anonymous White House official.
China’s ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday she wasn’t aware of a situation on the border.
The Chinese central government reiterated earlier this week that it supported Hong Kong’s leader and police in cracking down to maintain order, and that Beijing would only send troops at the request of city officials. China has also accused Western nations of sowing discord in the city as a way to destabilise China.
“If the turbulence continues, the whole of Hong Kong society will pay the cost,” said Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs office, which reports to China’s cabinet.
The Hong Kong government estimates the PLA maintains a garrison of 8,000 to 10,000 troops in Hong Kong, along with a naval squadron and a helicopter regiment; more troops are stationed in neighbouring Shenzhen.
Demonstrations are taking place nearly every day in Hong Kong, with rallies planned through late August.