Sponge grenades? Cops release details of response to Sunday’s protest, vow to turn up in force in Yuen Long tomorrow

Police stationed outside Western Market in Sheung Wan hold up a black flag warning protesters they will fire tear gas unless they disperse on July 21, 2019. Photo by Vicky Wong.
Police stationed outside Western Market in Sheung Wan hold up a black flag warning protesters they will fire tear gas unless they disperse on July 21, 2019. Photo by Vicky Wong.

Police released further details about their response to unrest in Sheung Wan on Sunday night, saying they fired 55 cans of tear gas, five rubber bullets, and 24 so-called sponge grenades (basically an extra-large rubber bullet) at the crowd of pro-democracy protesters.

Riot police deployed the weapons after anti-government protesters blew past the officially sanctioned endpoint of an peaceful march earlier in the day and continued on to Sai Wan, where they vandalized Beijing’s liaison office and pelted China’s national emblem with eggs and black paint.

At a press briefing on Thursday evening, Chief Superintendent John Tse Chun-chung, head of the police public relations bureau, said the officers had no choice but to deploy the weapons as protesters were throwing bricks at their officers, adding “we think the force we used was lawful and proportionate.”

Also at the press briefing was Acting Regional Commander of New Territories North Tsang Ching-fo, who said despite police formally banning a protest planned for Yuen Long tomorrow, officers will still be out in force.

“We are preparing for it anyway. But that will depend on the situation,” he said. “There will be a deployment to prevent any sort of attack on the locals and there will possibly be deployment for general policing as well as the transport arrangements, to prevent any disturbance of the transport in the area.”




Tsang said at the briefing they had received at least 1,700 letters from Yuen Long residents and villagers urging the police force not to allow Saturday’s protest to go ahead, and said there was a very good reason for the police to object to the protest, saying it would have posed a severe risk to public order.

The rally was announced in response to the bloody violence at Yuen Long MTR station on Sunday, which saw a mob of men in white shirts indiscriminately attack dozens of protesters returning from the rally on Hong Kong Island that day.

Though organizers insisted the march would be peaceful, activists online were circulating “battle plans” that appeared to call for retaliatory attacks on Yuen Long residents.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle warned of the potential for violence, and rural leaders in the area urged the police not to allow the march to go ahead. Yesterday afternoon police formally issued a letter of objection to the rally, which effectively makes Saturday’s protest an illegal assembly.

Despite the letter of objection, the march’s organizers have said the event will go ahead.

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