HONG KONG: It took longer than expected for police to respond to the attacks at a Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station in Yuen Long because of manpower issues, Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said on Monday (Jul 22).
The attacks on Sunday night left at least 45 injured and one person in a critical state, according to the Hospital Authority.
Later on Monday night, a police spokeswoman confirmed the arrests of two men, aged 45 and 48, related to an unlawful assembly in Yuen Long. They provided no other details.
Police have come under criticism for an apparent failure to protect anti-government protesters and passers-by from the attack in the New Territories near the Chinese border.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Mr Lo defended his force, saying officers were busy dealing with violent anti-government protests elsewhere.
"Definitely our manpower is stretched," he told reporters, describing any suggestion police colluded with suspected triads as a "smear". He added that the police would pursue the attackers.
"Every time when there is a major event, which may lead to violent confrontations, we have to redeploy some of my manpower from various districts to the Hong Kong Island, so that I can ensure sufficient manpower to deal with (that) incident.
"Violence will only breed violence. I really don’t want to see what happened in Yuen Long, happen again."
Mr Lo's comments came after opposition lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who was injured in Sunday night's attack, criticised police for their slow response and accused "triad members" of being behind the attacks.
Lam, who was wounded in the face and hospitalised, said the police ignored calls he made.
"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.
"Is Hong Kong now allowing triads to do what they want, beating up people on the street with weapons?" he added.
In his response, the police commissioner refuted the claim that authorities were not responding to the incident, and said that emergency calls were piling up. He added that many people were on the line for a long time.
He said that the police will review their manpower deployment and bring the offenders to justice.
Yuen Long assistant district police commander Yau Nai-keung added that an initial police patrol had to wait for reinforcements given a situation involving more than 100 people.
Witnesses saw groups of men in white with poles and bamboo staves at the village, but Yau said police saw no weapons when they arrived. Following some questioning of the men, they were allowed to leave, he told reporters.
"We can't say you have a problem because you are dressed in white and we have to arrest you. We will treat them fairly no matter which camp they are in," Yau said.
On Monday afternoon, masked protesters trashed the office of staunch pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho, who was filmed shaking hands with white-shirted men in Yuen Long shortly before Sunday's violence.
CARRIE LAM CONDEMNS ATTACK
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday also condemned the attack on China’s liaison office, saying it was a "challenge" to national sovereignty.
She added such actions "hurt the feelings of the Chinese nation", echoing the sentiments of the Beijing's Liaison Office's head, Wang Zhimin.
"Violence is not the solution to any problem. Violence will only breed more violence and at the end of the day the whole of Hong Kong and people will suffer as a result of the loss of law and order in Hong Kong," she said to the media.
She condemned violent behaviour of any kind and described as "shocking" the apparent attack by triad criminal gangs on ordinary citizens and protesters at the station, saying authorities would investigate fully.
The city has seen millions turn out in protest over the past months, demonstrating against an extradition Bill to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.
Ms Lam has apologised for the turmoil the extradition Bill has caused and declared the Bill "dead". Opponents of the Bill, which they fear could be used to silence dissent, say nothing short of its withdrawal will do.
China has condemned the violent protests as an "undisguised challenge" to the "one country, two systems" formula.