Masked protesters attack and trash shops in Hong Kong’s Whampoa district after stand-off with police following end of march

Jeffie Lam

Radical protesters attacked and vandalised shops in a Hong Kong neighbourhood shortly after a march attended by thousands ended in the city on Sunday evening.

A group of masked, black-clad protesters attacked outlets in Whampoa, a mainly residential area, trashing restaurants and shops perceived to have links to mainland China. A petrol bomb was also thrown at a police van.

Among stores targeted was a branch of the Japanese restaurant brand Yoshinoya, China Mobile, and Best Mart 360, a popular snack shop chain in Hong Kong. Outlets of these companies have been attacked in the past.

According to an employee at Yoshinoya, protesters arrived at about 8pm and started vandalising the store, setting off the sprinkler system. Riot police arrived at the scene at around 8.10pm.

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Rail operator the MTR Corporation closed Whampoa station. Radicals also damaged traffic lights in the area, using open umbrellas to cover their actions.

Police said that at around 8pm “masked rioters were recklessly damaging facilities” in the area. They blocked Hung Hom Road and Tak Man Street with barricades while some stormed shops and vandalised facilities inside. The force warned that it would carry out a dispersal operation.

At least three people, including two girls, were arrested in the area.

Protesters also chased and hit with umbrellas a couple they accused of filming people’s faces. Other protesters tried to cover reporters’ cameras. The couple later escaped into a nearby building.

Shortly before 10.15pm, a petrol bomb was thrown at a police van, with part of the vehicle briefly alight. Police fired a few rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds in response.

A petrol bomb also set an entrance to the Whampoa MTR station on fire.

Earlier, the march, which came a week after the pro-democracy bloc scored a landslide victory in district council elections, started at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on the Tsim Sha Tsui harbourfront to Hung Hom – a route approved by police.

“Hongkongers, take revenge!” chanted the crowd, filling the promenade, as more protesters streamed in from railway stations nearby.

Protesters block a road in Whampoa. Photo: Edmond So

Police fired tear gas and some projectiles during the day after various objects including bricks were thrown at them. As night fell, a small crowd of masked protesters had gathered in Whampoa, blocking a road junction.

At around 3.45pm, soon after the march started, police raised a blue flag warning protesters they were taking part in an illegal assembly as some had deviated from the approved 1.2km route.

Officers then used pepper spray on protesters. Members of police’s elite Special Tactical Squad – known as Raptors – arrived on the scene, urging people to return to the pavement.

A police officer deploys pepper spray in Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Sam Tsang

Police fired two rounds of tear gas at around 4.45pm on Salisbury Road near the Space Museum after some people threw objects at them. At about the same time, at least five rounds of projectiles were fired towards protesters at the other end of Salisbury Road near the Hong Kong Coliseum, the finishing point of the march.

The force later said radical protesters had thrown bricks at officers. “Police officers, in response, deployed the minimum necessary force, including tear gas, to stop their illegal acts,” it said.

Outside the Coliseum, protesters raised a black flag with the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times” on a flagpole there.

Masked school pupils Anna, 17, and K, 16, were walking underneath a bridge that links the Coliseum with Hung Hom when they saw police fire a few rounds of pepper bullets.

“We saw a bunch of police standing under the bridge when they suddenly fired their guns at people on the bridge without raising their warning flag,” K said. “I think people on the bridge threw some stuff down beforehand but they still fired without warning. Some of the protesters on the bridge had gear on but many were just wearing surgical masks like us.”

Anna said police then raised the warning flag and fired another two rounds, but the pair did not see if people on the bridge were hit.

“Police then aimed guns at us on the ground. The bullets smelled really acrid. Then a group of three Raptors came out of a van and chased protesters on Science Museum Road.”

A firefighter examines the vandalised Yoshinoya branch. Photo: Edmond So

The organiser of the march announced the early termination of the event shortly after 5pm, instead of continuing until the permitted 6pm.

He later said police called him at 4pm to say the march had to be halted immediately, following the firing of tear gas.

Describing himself as an ordinary internet user on the popular LIHKG forum with no political affiliation, he said he organised the march because he wanted Hongkongers not to forget about the protesters’ key demands, which had not been met even after the pan-democrats’ election victory.

He claimed 380,000 people joined the march, while police estimated 16,000 took part at its peak.

Police could be seen clearing people from the square in front of the Space Museum at around 5.40pm, telling everybody the assembly was now illegal. They also cleared protesters from outside the Coliseum at about 6pm, verbally warning of the use of tear gas.

By 6.30pm, there were few protesters to be seen at either the start point of the march or the Coliseum. However, a crowd of about 100 protesters soon gathered in Whampoa, an area neighbouring Hung Hom, sparking a stand-off with police. Officers raised a blue flag warning the people were taking part in an illegal assembly.

At around 7.40pm, police fired at least four rounds of tear gas, two rubber bullets and a beanbag round after bricks were thrown at them.

Police fired four more rounds of tear gas shortly before 10pm as about 300 defiant protesters remained on the streets.

In Mong Kok, meanwhile, police made a handful of arrests in the late evening. They had lined up dozens of people, who were not dressed in usual gear of protesters, on Nathan Road, checking their bags and identity cards. Earlier, protesters started a small fire on a side street.

Earlier, activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, the poster boy of the city’s pro-democracy movement, said the decent turnout for Sunday’s march, held after last week’s election victory, showed the solidarity of Hongkongers. The pro-democracy camp took control of 17 out of the city’s 18 district councils.

“We still need to recognise the uphill, long-term battle to continue our fight for freedom and democracy,” he said.

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Wong also said the protesters’ five demands would only be realised if they continued on their three battlefields, international lobbying, community organisation and protest struggles on the streets.

He also said an “independent review committee” into the months-long protests, proposed by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, was a toothless tiger.

A masked protester throws back a tear gas round in Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Sam Tsang

The protests, triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill in June, have evolved into a wider anti-government movement. The five core demands include an independent inquiry into police actions during the protests.

Reforming the police force had been a common goal shared by Hongkongers, Wong said.

A group of Hongkongers, including an 83-year-old woman, manned a booth collecting donations and offering protest supplies – such as surgical masks and gas mask filters – to protesters. People, mostly middle-aged, were seen putting HK$100 bills (US$12.80) into the boxes.

Protesters say the government is not listening. Photo: Sam Tsang

“We only offer protective gear but not weapons to protesters. It’s completely legal,” said a man, who gave his name as Steve.

The group bought stacks of food coupons from supermarket and fast food chains with the donation received and gave them out to protesters who had financial difficulties.

Alex Wong, a Form Two secondary student, joined the Tsim Sha Tsui rally with two of his friends, without letting his parents knowing.

“My parents are supporting the government, so there’s nothing we can talk about,” he said. “If my youth can save the future in Hong Kong, I will give it a try. Any action happening today, I will not mind joining.”

Protesters arrive at the Hung Hom Bypass in Tsim Sha Tsui East. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

He said he had been on the front lines many times but luckily had not been arrested, but added that he did not participate in the intense clashes at the universities.

“The government is not hearing us, like my parents, and not responding to any of our demands. Even though this rally has a letter of no objection, police will target the young in the end.”

Mr Yau, a clerk working in the education sector, was among the many middle-aged people there. He said the large number of people joining showed the masses were still dissatisfied with the government.

The protesters are still calling for their five demands. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

“We allowed a pause last week simply because of the district council elections, you can see people are still dissatisfied,” he added. “We are angry but the government has done nothing to respond to our demands.”

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