Hong Kong protesters to defy police ban on march after gang attack

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Demonstration ‘must go on’ in area where commuters were beaten with iron rods

Demonstrators in Hong Kong have vowed to march despite a police ban to condemn an attack by suspected gangs on commuters earlier this week.

On Thursday, police rejected an application by protesters to hold a rally in Yuen Long, in north-west Hong Kong, where dozens of masked men beat commuters on Sunday with rattan and iron rods.

“The march must go on,” said Michael Mo, a co-signer of the application submitted to police, on behalf of a group of protesters. Previously, Max Chung, who met police to submit the forms, also said he would move ahead if denied. “For me personally I will, 100%,” he said on Tuesday.

The ban raises the likelihood of clashes with local villagers, who had reportedly asked police to reject the application. Observers worry that an unsanctioned rally will embolden attackers from Sunday, believed to belong to organised crime groups, known as the triads. Yuen Long is surrounded by villages where these groups are active.

“We have enough reasons to believe the protesters may have violent conflicts with the residents of the villages, which is dangerous for both sides,” the police said in a letter of objection given to Chung.

“Based on the conflicts in previous protests and the recent atmosphere in society, the police have enough reason to believe you cannot control the behaviour of the protesters. This is not good for maintaining public security or protecting others’ rights and freedom,” it said.

Online protesters wrote under news of the rejection that they would travel to Yuen Long on Saturday, the date of the planned rally, to buy traditional Cantonese pastries or “take a stroll”.

The police letter means that the march is in effect illegal and anyone found demonstrating could be arrested.

“Since we can’t protest, we in Yuen Long invite people to come and visit,” one user wrote on a forum for protesters. Others called on Hong Kongers to head to Yuen Long to “boost the economy” and by walking what would have been the route for the march, along a main road in the town’s commercial district.

“I myself on the same time and the same day will walk from the start point to end point by myself. I’m just telling everyone in Hong Kong my daily schedule,” Chung said after receiving news of the ban. He has applied to appeal the decision.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong authorities came under intense pressure to investigate and sanction those connected to the Yuen Long attack, which has prompted accusations of collusion between security, local authorities and the triads.

The Civil Human Rights Front and the Labour party filed formal complaints with Hong Kong’s anti-graft agency, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, accusing police commissioner and other top police officials of misconduct.

On Wednesday, the democratic lawmaker Andrew Wan, from the New Territories, and his party also lodged a complaint, accusing the police of knowing of the attack beforehand but doing nothing to prevent it. A district councillor from Yuen Long has said he alerted police to threats of an attack that day and was told the police had “a plan”.

Calls for a government response have mushroomed over the past week, with rallies planned at Hong Kong airport and in a major hospital, as well as in Yuen Long. More than 23 groups, including civil servants, legislative staff, hospital workers, kindergarten teachers and pilots, have published statements condemning the attack and urging the government to respond.

The attack has escalated public anger at Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, whose resignation is one of the protesters’ key demands. Previous criticism was focused on her refusal to meet demands by demonstrators including a full withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill that started the protests.

Now, the ability of Lam’s administration to govern has come into question. “The people of Hong Kong are already on the verge of collapse … the police no longer protect the public [and]the Hong Kong government is incapable of governance,” said a letter signed by more than 100 civil servants from 23 departments that issued “severe condemnation” of authorities.

Lam, who was last seen in public on Monday when she gave widely criticised comments to the press, said police would investigate the incident. The police have arrested 12 people in connection with the attack, on suspicion of “unlawful assembly”. No charges have yet been made.

“The government is under a lot, a lot of pressure,” said Joseph Cheng, a retired political scientist based in Hong Kong. “People are wondering if the administration can even be effective in maintaining law and order.”

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