HONG KONG (Xinhua) — Rioters took advantage of a protest to wreak havoc again in Hong Kong on New Year’s Day, trashing an HSBC branch, setting fire on streets, and spray-painting insulting words on the outer wall of the High Court.
At about 3:50 p.m. local time, a group of masked rioters smashed the glass door and damaged automated teller machines (ATMs) of a branch of HSBC bank on Hennessy Road during a demonstration on Hong Kong Island Wednesday afternoon.
Violent protesters also poured red paint over a lion sculpture in front of the HSBC Headquarters in Central district. Some spray-painted the protective white planks at the entrance of an HSBC branch in the vicinity of Victoria Park.
It was not the first time for Hong Kong’s largest bank to be targeted by rioters. An HSBC branch in Mong Kok was trashed on Christmas Eve.
Some other businesses also fell victim to the violence on Wednesday. The glass door of a China Life Insurance building was destroyed, and a Bank of China branch was also vandalized. A Starbucks cafe was trashed and set on fire, and an outlet of Hui’s Brothers Currency Exchange was painted with graffiti.
According to the plan filed with the police, protesters first gathered at Victoria Park at noon before marching toward Chater Road as the destination. However, after the demonstration ended at about 5:30 p.m., some rioters still occupied the streets.
At about 5:00 p.m. local time, rioters hurled petrol bombs at Luard Road and Hennessy Road, posing a grave threat to public safety. At about 6 p.m. local time, rioters set road barricades with debris and damaged the traffic lights in the vicinity of Des Voeux Road Central and Pedder Street.
Violence showed no signs of abating in the evening as rioters vandalized public facilities in Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Central, with roads blocked and pavements destroyed. Some even set fire to banks and ATMs.
As warnings went in vain, the police had to deploy the minimum necessary force, including tear gas and the Specialized Crowd Management Vehicle to disperse protesters. Five people involved in the vandalism of the HSBC branch were arrested for criminal damage.
As one of the most stunning incidents on Wednesday, some rioters spray-painted words on the outer wall of the High Court to insult a judge.
The police strongly condemned such an unlawful act which defies the spirit of law and clarified the case as “criminal damage”. The Department of Justice of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government said personal attacks and insults against judges would severely undermine the authority of the courts and damage public confidence in the judicial system.
At a press briefing at about 11:00 p.m., police said about 400 people were arrested for offenses including unlawful assembly and possession of offensive weapon.
Ng Lok-chun, senior superintendent (Operations) of Hong Kong Island Region of Hong Kong police, said the demonstration ended ahead of schedule as rioters committed a series of violent acts, from trashing the HSBC branch and besieging police officers to throwing petrol bombs.
Given the situation, it is impossible for the demonstration to carry on in a peaceful manner, Ng said.
Ng stressed that peaceful protesters had enough time to leave as the police did not use force until about 7:00 p.m.local time, about an hour and a half after the end of the protest.
The HKSAR government strongly condemned the violent acts on Wednesday, in particular the assault on the High Court, and said the police will handle related cases seriously. “The society will never tolerate the violent act that causes enormous damage to the rule of law in Hong Kong,” a government spokesperson said.
The spokesperson expressed concerns over rioters repeatedly using protests to commit violent acts and called on residents not to tolerate any forms of violence and called on peaceful participants to stay away from rioters.
The spokesperson also condemned the act of some protesters to wave independence flags and stressed that the HKSAR is an inalienable part of China, adding that any forms of foreign interference in Hong Kong affairs will be rejected.
The HKSAR government will not turn a blind eye to any unconstitutional and illegal acts, the spokesperson said.