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Hong Kong police ban march to protest mob violence


    Protesters react to tear gas as they confront riot police officers in Hong Kong on July 21.

HONG KONG >> The Hong Kong police today blocked plans for a weekend march in a satellite town where a mob of men armed with sticks and poles had earlier injured dozens of people in an attack apparently designed to intimidate participants in a weekslong protest movement.

The organizer of the weekend march, which is meant to denounce the anemic police response to that earlier attack, said he would appeal. Some protesters have signaled that they will go ahead with the event whether it is approved or not, a sign that police opposition and increasingly strident denunciations from Chinese officials and local leaders are doing little to curb the demonstrations.

The march was planned for Saturday in the town of Yuen Long, where thugs believed to be connected with organized crime groups attacked people in and around a train station. The attackers, who were dressed in white shirts, were apparently targeting people who were coming home from earlier demonstrations. They lashed out indiscriminately, injuring journalists, a lawmaker and protesters as well as people with no connection to the protests.

The police said that holding a march in Yuen Long, close to villages where some of the attackers fled Sunday night, raised the likelihood of further violence. The police added that they had received 13 letters from Yuen Long district leaders and 1,700 letters from members of the public worried about the safety of the planned march and some urging the police to reject its permit application.

The march organizer, Max Chung, said he would walk the route on his own if his proposal were rejected. Some people posted suggestions for alternative excuses to gather in Yuen Long, including shopping trips and a sarcastic memorial event for Li Peng, the former Chinese premier who died Monday and was widely loathed for his role in the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen protest movement.

The authorities have been widely criticized for their slow response to the violence in Yuen Long. The police made no arrests on the night of the attacks, even though officers were seen speaking to men carrying sticks and wearing white T-shirts. The police have since arrested 12 men suspected of participating in the attacks, including nine with connections to triads, the organized crime groups who are thought to have carried out the violence.

Police officials said their force had been spread thin by a protest march that took place earlier that day in a different part of Hong Kong. That protest began as a peaceful demonstration against a government proposal, now suspended, to allow extraditions to mainland China and also to call for an independent investigation into accusations of police brutality against protesters.

A smaller group of protesters continued beyond the approved route to the Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, where they painted graffiti on the building and threw eggs and ink on the Chinese national seal. Police officers and protesters later clashed near the liaison office, with the police firing tear gas and rubber bullets and some demonstrators throwing bricks.

Chinese government officials have sharply criticized the damage to the liaison office. A Ministry of National Defense spokesman said Wednesday that challenging the central government’s authority “absolutely cannot be tolerated” and suggested that military force could be used to quell the protests if necessary.

Some analysts have said the police might have been slow to respond to the attack on the train station because they were reluctant to defend protesters after weeks of confrontations on the streets.

A group of more than 200 government officials from 44 departments released an open letter Thursday to Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, criticizing the police and the government’s intransigence toward protesters’ overall demands, including a full withdrawal of the extradition bill.

“When the majority in the society disagrees with the policy made by our government, being civil servants, we should respond to the public’s demands reasonably,” they wrote. “Today we decided to break our silence, to strongly urge the government to respond to those demands.”

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