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Hong Kongers defy police ban and gather for 'anti-triad' rally

Hong Kongers defy police ban and gather for 'anti-triad' rally

Protesters demonstrate in the district of Yuen Long in Hong Kong on Jul 27, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

HONG KONG: Several thousand protesters defied a police ban on Saturday (Jul 27) to converge on a Hong Kong town where suspected triad gang members attacked protesters and commuters at a train station last weekend.

Police, widely criticised for failing to better protect the public from the mob in Yuen Long last Sunday, refused to allow a planned march in the town on safety grounds.

But activists insisted they would push ahead and by 4.45pm, several thousand had gathered in sweltering heat, many chanting anti-police slogans such as "black police" and "know the law, break the law".

Residents described a mounting police presence on Saturday morning, with force chiefs insisting they will still seek to keep order despite the ban.

While the rally began peacefully, small groups of more hardcore protesters, many wearing helmets and shields, confronted police and accused them of protecting triads.

Tensions soon escalated with projectiles hurled and a police van containing officers was also surrounded and daubed in graffiti.

Soon tear gas rounds were arcing through the air and a now familiar pattern of running battles between police and protesters began.

READ: Hong Kong police fire tear gas at protesters defying ban on 'anti-triad' rally

"They failed the public," a protester called Kevin, in a red T-shirt, said of the police as he stood outside the police station, gripping its gates.

"They deliberately let the triads beat up protesters to get revenge on us ... We’re here to teach them a lesson," he said, as he shouted an obscenity at the police.

Public anger has been raging since last Sunday when a gang of men in white T-shirts, armed with poles and batons, set upon anti-government protesters and bystanders in Yuen Long station, leaving at least 45 people needing hospital treatment.

The brazen assault was the latest escalation in seven weeks of unprecedented political violence that shows little sign of abating as the city's pro-Beijing leaders refuse to budge.

Hong Kong has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history after millions of demonstrators took to the streets - and sporadic violent confrontations erupted between police and pockets of hardcore protesters.

Police officers stand guards outside a village in Yuen Long district in Hong Kong as people attend a march on Jul 27, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)

READ: Hong Kong braces for 'anti-triad' rally despite police ban

The demonstrations were triggered by a controversial Bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.

Protesters hold posters inside the MTR station in the Yuen Long district of Hong Kong on Jul 27, 2019, before an expected protest march in the afternoon. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)

POKEMON AND SHOPPING SPREES

In a rare move, police banned Saturday's rally saying they feared reprisal attacks against villagers from protesters.

Social messaging channels used to organise the largely leaderless movement quickly filled up with vows from people to join in.

Some suggested holding a "shopping spree" in Yuen Long, others for a mass gathering of Pokemon Go, a popular mobile phone game.

Large crowds on Saturday afternoon began mustering in Yuen Long's main station and spilling out into surrounding streets where police maintained a large presence but kept their distance. Many shops were shuttered.

Protesters put up signs giving directions to an MTR station (top) as well as warning others not to venture into the local villages in the Yuen Long district of Hong Kong, on Jul 27, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

Unlike previous rallies, few protesters were holding protest signs or banners. But it was clear those present were determined to defy the ban.

"Everyone of us came here on our own initiation," a 25-year-old medical worker surnamed Ng, told AFP. "So I don't think this is an illegal assembly, I've just come here as an individual to tell people my thoughts."

Another woman, surnamed Cheung, said she wanted to show "we are not afraid and that Hong Kongers won't cower in fear".

"The police and (the government) are together suppressing people's freedom to express their views," she added.

Protesters gather in the district of Yuen Long in Hong Kong on Jul 27, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

TRIAD LINKS

Yuen Long is in Hong Kong's New Territories, a rural area where many of the surrounding villages are known for triad connections and their staunch support for the pro-Beijing establishment.

Police say they have arrested 12 people so far in connection with Sunday's violence, nine of whom have known triad links.

Rumours have swirled that protesters might target the ancestral halls and graves of a village close to the Yuen Long's station where the white shirt mob ran into after their attack and later left without police making any arrests despite a large presence of officers.

Earlier this week the graves of Junius Ho's parents were vandalised. An ardent pro-Beijing lawmaker, Ho was seen shaking hands with the white-shirted men before Sunday's attack. He also threatened a pro-democracy lawmaker in an online video earlier this week.

That lawmaker, Eddie Chu, who also hails from the New Territories, said many villagers abhorred Sunday's attack but were afraid to speak out, calling on demonstrators not to harm graves and halls.

An AFP photographer saw protesters putting up signs encouraging others not to venture into the nearby villages.

FEW CONCESSIONS

Weeks of unprecedented protests with huge turnouts - as well as frequent clashes and the sacking of parliament - have had little luck persuading Beijing or Hong Kong's leaders.

Beijing has issued increasingly shrill condemnations in the last fortnight, but has left it to the city's semi-autonomous government to deal with the situation.

City leader Carrie Lam has shown no sign of backing down beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition Bill.

READ: Protesters rally at Hong Kong airport over controversial extradition Bill

On Friday thousands held a 10-hour protest at the airport arrival hall in a bid to "educate" visitors about their movement - especially those on the Chinese mainland where news is heavily censored.

The protest was peaceful and there was no disruption to flights.

Protesters also plan to march on Sunday through a district where riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at projectile-hurling protesters the week before.

Police have allowed a rally to take place, but denied protesters permission to march, raising the likelihood of further confrontations.

Source: AGENCIES/ga

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