Illegal rally in Yuen Long goes ahead, following familiar script

Thousands of protesters crowd Castle Peak Road during an unsanctioned protest in Yuen Long today. Photo by Stuart White.
Thousands of protesters crowd Castle Peak Road during an unsanctioned protest in Yuen Long today. Photo by Stuart White.

A large protest in Yuen Long, held in defiance of a police ban, followed a predictable script today, as pro-democracy demonstrators marched peacefully down Castle Peak Road in the afternoon, while some began erecting roadblocks and squaring off with police in the evening, with authorities responding with tear gas.

Today’s march was held in response to a vicious assault on scores of protesters — as well as journalists and everyday commuters — by white-shirted thugs at Yuen Long MTR station last Sunday, and to police inaction in the face of the sustained onslaught. Since the attacks, protesters have accused the police of colluding with triads to perpetrate the violence.

“We have to show up to let them know violence won’t stop our movement,” said one young protester who gave his name as Jay, adding that the long-running protests would “keep going” as long as it takes. “We’re waiting for the government’s response.”

Posters accusing police of colluding with triads to allow last Sunday's violence in Yuen Long were plastered to the Yuen Long police station today. Photo by Stuart White.
Posters accusing police of colluding with triads to allow last Sunday’s violence in Yuen Long were plastered to the Yuen Long police station today. Photo by Stuart White.

For weeks, the city’s leaders have declined to respond in a meaningful fashion to protesters’ demands, which include the full withdrawal of a now-suspended extradition bill as well as calls for an independent investigation into police use of force and broader demands for universal suffrage.

Police refused to issue a “letter of no objection” for today’s protest, citing public safety concerns. Indeed, in addition to the possibility of reprisals from the white-shirted thugs — some of whom had triad links — some in the protesters’ camp had also called for retribution for last Sunday’s violence.

Protesters today said that they, too, were concerned about the possibility of violence, but were heartened by the large size of the crowd.

Protesters face off with riot police at an unsanctioned rally in Yuen Long today. Photo by Vicky Wong.
Protesters face off with riot police at an unsanctioned rally in Yuen Long today. Photo by Vicky Wong.

“If there were less people, I think we would be more afraid,” said one protester named Wilson, 26, who said he and his friends would leave the area before dark to avoid run-ins with violent pro-Beijing forces.

“We think we can protect ourselves,” said another protester named Ricky Law. “The quantity of us is more than the white-shirts.”

Today’s rally began peacefully. But small groups of more hardcore protesters, many in helmets and carrying shields, confronted police outside the villages and accused them of protecting triads.

Tensions soon escalated, with projectiles hurled and a police van containing officers also surrounded and sprayed with graffiti.

Soon, tear gas rounds were arcing through the air and a now-familiar pattern of running battles between police and protesters began.

At about 7:30pm, protesters were urging their comrades to “leave together,” while images circulated online appearing to show white-shirt thugs again gathering with weapons.

Protesters are now planning to march tomorrow through Sheung Wan, where riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at projectile-hurling protesters the same night as the violence in Yuen Long.

Police have allowed a rally to take place, but denied protesters permission to march, raising the likelihood of further confrontations.

Additional reporting by AFP.

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