HONG KONG: Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leader and the city's police chief visited a mosque on Monday (Oct 21) that was struck with blue dye from a water cannon during the latest bout of violent protests.
The entrance to the Kowloon Mosque, the international hub's largest, was sprayed by a water cannon truck on Sunday, causing anger among both local Muslims and protesters.
Police use the dye - often mixed with an irritant - as a way to identify protesters but it has frequently left streets and buildings daubed in a garish blue.
Video footage shot Sunday showed the truck pulling up outside the building during confrontations with protesters, pausing and then spraying around half a dozen journalists and bystanders who were gathered on the street outside.
The group, who did not appear to be protesters, was struck twice, with much of the bright blue jet painting the mosque's entrance and steps.
There had been concerns over the past week that the South Asian community could suffer some backlash from some factions after a prominent rights activist was beaten up last week by assailants described by police as "non-Chinese".
Criminal gangs, or triads, in the city, have sometimes hired non-Chinese, including South Asians to carry out attacks on individuals.
Consequently, the Muslim community had been on edge ahead of Sunday's protest march, which wound past the mosque.
"It's a symbol of peace," said Waqar Haider, an interpreter for South Asian residents and worshipper at the mosque. "It shouldn't have happened...South Asians have not been involved in any protesting — anti-Hong Kong or pro-Hong Kong. We're just living peacefully."
South Asians, who hail from Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh, comprise about 1 per cent of Hong Kong's population, according to 2016 census figures.
"It was unnecessary to drag this place of worship into this conflict between the government and the people," Arabi Mohideen, 60, said after attending dawn prayers at the mosque in the bustling Tsim Sha Tsui district.
The police said in a statement that the mosque had been accidentally sprayed and that they "respect religious freedom and will strive to protect all places of worship".
On Monday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and police chief Stephen Lo paid a brief visit to the mosque, surrounded by a phalanx of security guards.
They emerged some 20 minutes later without speaking to the media.
"Mrs Lam extended an apology for the inadvertent spraying of the mosque's main entrance and gate," her office said in a statement.
Police also issued their first public apology for the conduct of officers since the protests erupted in early June.
"Immediately after the incident, our police representative offered sincere apologies to the chief imam and the Muslim community leaders," Cheuk Hau-yip, Regional Commander of Kowloon West district, told reporters.
Mosque representatives told reporters that the two had apologised for the water cannon incident.
Chief Imam Muhammad Arshad said the apology was "accepted" and that the Islamic community hoped to continue living in Hong Kong in peace.
The representatives also thanked worshippers and Hong Kongers who flocked to clean the mosque soon after the incident.
"It's just a mistake. They apologised. They saw some protesters standing outside the gates. The protesters also apologised," said Mohammed Assan, 32, who was praying at the mosque at the time.
"The police do their work and the protesters have a right to protest. Everybody needs freedom. They demand to live with freedom."
The original Kowloon Mosque was built in the late nineteenth century to cater for Muslim soldiers from British-ruled India.
It was rebuilt in the early 1980s and remains a centre of Hong Kong's 300,000-strong Muslim community.
Lam's office and the police did not respond to requests for comment on the visit.
A police source told AFP the commissioner did apologise and further details would be released later in the day.
Hong Kong was convulsed by another day of violence on Sunday as the city nears five months of seething protests.
Tens of thousands joined an unauthorised but peaceful afternoon rally which quickly descended into chaos as small groups of hardcore protesters threw petrol bombs and rocks at a police station, mainland China businesses and multiple subway station entrances.
Police responded with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets in clashes that lasted well into the night.
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