Hong Kong Leader Criticizes Both Sides After Pro-China Gangs Stage Mass Attack on Subway Passengers

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has refused to take sides after pro-Beijing criminal gangs organized attacks on anti-China demonstrators riding the territory's subway system home following another day of protests.

Lam, who protesters are demanding resign from her position, condemned the behavior of both sides in a press conference on Monday, Reuters reported. Though she promised an investigation into the subway violence, Lam also said protesters should not have defaced the China Liaison Office building in the center of the city.

Gangs of white shirt-wearing men carrying sticks, poles, clubs and other weapons descended on the Yuen Long MTR station in the northwest of Hong Kong at about 10:30 p.m. local time. They then began running through the station attacking commuters and anyone wearing black—the color worn by protesters during Sunday's anti-government demonstration.

Videos showed the men, reportedly linked to the territory's triad criminal gangs, chasing people through ticket halls and cornering them inside trains, beating them with sticks and other weapons. Men, women and children were all caught up in the violence. The Guardian reported that a pregnant woman was among those attacked by gang members.

VIDEO: Violent scenes at Hong Kong’s Yuen Long MTR station as white-clad men wielding sticks assault protesters and commuters https://t.co/L4JQXAiYSy #HongKongProtests

(📹: Facebook/Lam Cheuk Ting, circulating online) pic.twitter.com/bJKCVjO2wV

— CNA (@ChannelNewsAsia) July 22, 2019

the situation in hongkong now is so messy...... i hope bnm reconsiders sending ab6ix to hongkong... it’s so dangerous https://t.co/hptD9TIDnd

— 𝐠𝐞𝐧 ♡ #MESSAGE #SALUTE (@ilyjeojang) July 22, 2019

Pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting was among those attacked and sustained facial wounds. He told Reuters that police "deliberately turned a blind eye to these attacks by triads on regular citizens."

Senior district police commander Yau Nai-keung told reporters that police were unable to respond until reinforcements arrived, given that more than 100 people were involved in the attacks. According to Reuters, he said police had not made any arrests at the station or in follow-up searches of a village nearby.

At least 45 people were injured in the attacks, with one person left in a critical condition, the BBC noted. The Hong Kong police force—which has been accused of using disproportionate force in dispersing anti-government protests—has been accused of allowing the violence to happen. Officers were conspicuously absent during the attacks and only arrived shortly after the armed gangs left the area.

Hong Kong Reddit users posted unconfirmed reports that they had told police about the groups of men gathering at the station earlier in the day, but no action was taken. Officers even reportedly closed the local police station when the violence started. Others claimed they had called emergency services during the attacks but that operators hung up on them.

Footage shared on social media appeared to show pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho, who lives in the Yuen Long area, shaking hands with apparent gang members wearing white and giving them a thumbs up, the Guardian said.

Another video appeared to show two riot offers having a conversation with armed men wearing white shirts and helmets before allowing them to continue on their way and join up with a large group of other men.

Lam described the violence as "shocking" and said authorities would launch a full investigation. "I've said this and I'll say it again, violence will not solve any problems and will only lead to more violence," she said.

But she also criticized Sunday's protests, which centered on the Chinese Liaison Office in the city center. Activists defaced walls and a national emblem at the facility, before being chased off by police firing rubber bullets and tear gas. Lam said targeting the office was a "challenge" to national sovereignty.

The ongoing unrest in Hong Kong stems from a proposed bill that would have allowed the extradition of criminals from Hong Kong to mainland China.

Opponents feared the proposed legislation would enable Beijing to target its political opponents in the territory and undermine the "one country, two systems" agreement active since Britain handed Hong Kong back to China. This system affords Hong Kong residents greater personal and political freedoms than those living on the mainland.

Though the government eventually shelved the proposal after protracted demonstrations, it did not commit to its full withdrawal. Activists have since demanded a total cancellation of the bill and Lam's resignation.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong, violence, subway
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to the media during a press conference in Hong Kong on July 22, 2019. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty