HONG KONG—A group of men assailed the camps of protesting students in two places in Hong Kong today, pulling apart some of their makeshift structures and bashing the protesters about the heads. Police mostly stood by, according to witnesses.
Images of bloodied men being taken to hospital emerged on social media in the afternoon, after the thugs attacked them.
The main thrust of the attack took place in Mongkok, a busy shopping district where locals live cheek by jowl in small apartments above the many clothing, knick-knack, and electronic stores on crowded sidestreets.
Students there have for the last week or so shut off roads in Mongkok and erected barricades and large tents, where they give speeches discussing Hong Kong’s political future.
In the afternoon, a group of men rushed the students, yanking down their tarpaulins and hitting and pushing the students around.
Bystanders called out for police intervention. Witnesses said, however, that the latter made minimal effort to stop the violence.
“I saw what they did to the students today,” said Mr. Ng, a 32-year-old who did not wish to fully identify himself because of his line of work. As he explained the scene–of young people standing peacefully as they were punched in the face by older men, while police did nothing–he began crying. “It’s very twisted,” he said.
Ng indicated that police were within a few meters of the assault, but failed to intervene.
Malk Chan, 29, an advertising graduate, said that he and “everyone” sees the attacks as somehow carried out in conjunction with the Hong Kong government, who gave the police orders not to arrest the assailants.
“Everyone” did not really include everyone–as even one young man nearby explained his sense of the inappropriateness of simply blocking of streets to make a point—yet the sentiment that the attacks were not spontaneous, nor merely limited to local frustrations, was indeed widespread.
Cheung Mung-ting, a 19-year-old law student, remarked:
“The police aren’t intervening so they can say it’s a violent movement and then step in and take over,” she said.
“Of course they won’t say that they were sent by the government, but everyone knows it.”
She rattled off a list of groups with names like “The Voice of Love for Hong Kong” and “Help Hong Kong Speak,” which popped up, she said, only after the current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, assumed his position.
“Even though there is no direct proof of their ties to Beijing, you just watch what they’re doing every day and you can see what they’re about.”
Aside from, or perhaps in addition to the potential Beijing connection, it is widely held in Hong Kong that triads operate in and around Mongkok. Carrie Gracie, a reporter with the BBC, Tweeted late on Thursday night “Police source says: ‘Clearly triads involved.'”
Just back from ruckus in Mongkok. Police source says: ‘Clearly triads involved.’
— Carrie Gracie (@BBCCarrie) October 3, 2014
Late in the night, after the violence and turmoil of the day had petered out, police made a half-hearted effort to break up one of the street barriers. The fortifications were quickly reinforced by young men, who said that in their view, the goal of the government on Thursday was in fact to clear out Mongkok, an endeavour that had evidently failed.
Apple Daily, one of the few newspapers in Hong Kong that has supported the protests, Tweeted in the morning on Thursday that few protesters remained in Mong Kok, before the attack. Crowds swelled significantly once word of the assault got out, however, and at midnight hundreds were still milling about in a large crowd, clambering atop subway entrances and phone booths.
Following the violence, the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which is spearheading the protests in Admiralty and Central, the government and financial districts respectively, said that it intends to pause the talks planned with Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief secretary.