In a rare move, Hong Kong police have banned a planned protest against mob attacks this weekend, citing security concerns.
They denied a protest permit to organisers on Thursday, who had looked to gather in the northern district of Yuen Long, the scene of vicious attacks on commuters on Sunday evening by men dressed in white and armed with sticks and rattan poles.
The scenes caused shock in one of the safest cities in the world and sparked fears the incident may mark a turning point in the otherwise largely peaceful protests that have taken place all summer.
At least 45 people were injured in the attack, and 12 have been arrested in connection.
China this week told Lord Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, to "shut up and back down" over his criticism of the use of violence against protesters in the territory.
Lord Patten has called on the British government to do more to support the protesters.
"Mr Patten chose to turn a blind eye and avoid talking about riots striking at the foundation of the rule of law in Hong Kong and everyone saw clearly his intention," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Wednesday, according to China’s Global Times .
"China firmly opposes any external forces attempting to intervene in Hong Kong affairs and we hope they could shut up and back down immediately," she said.
Despite the protest ban, and the threat of further conflict, the organisers intend to march on. Flyers are circulating online urging people to come prepared on Saturday with hard hats and other protective gear.
“We will exhaust every means to march,” Max Chung Kin-ping, one of the organisers, told the South China Morning Post. Chung said the ban would only anger people and spark a larger turnout.
At a press conference, police said they were prepared for all contingencies. “There will be deployment … to prevent any attack on the locals,” said Acting Regional Commander of New Territories North, Tsang Ching-fo.
Anxiety has been simmering throughout the week over concerns of fresh attacks on the general public, as images of bloodied heads, and welts and bruises covering the backs of those who were beaten on Sunday made the rounds on news channels and social media.
While most residents had gone about their day-to-day lives without much concern during the weeks of protests, some are now avoiding hotspots and staying home for fear of being caught up in the turmoil.
On Monday, Yuen Long was a ghost town with shops and banks closed in the area, as well as in other potential protest hotspots – at least six more protests are being planned for the next few weeks. Some companies allowed staff to head home early, after rumours spread of attacks planned on public transportation during the evening rush hour.
Hong Kong has been roiled by almost two months of weekly protests after the government tried to push through a bill that would have paved the way for people in the city to be extradited to the Chinese mainland.
The protests forced the city’s leader Carrie Lam to declare the bill “dead,” but protesters are calling for the bill’s formal withdrawal, an inquiry into alleged police brutality, and Lam’s resignation.
With the bulk of the violence on Sunday taking place at Yuen Long station, the city’s rail operator – whose majority stakeholder is the Hong Kong government – has also become embroiled in the turmoil.
It was targeted by protesters demanding accountability on Wednesday as they descended on the subway blocking doors and pressing emergency buttons to disrupt services during the morning rush hour.
The operator’s chief backed the protesters’ demand for an inquiry into police behaviour. “As an ordinary citizen, I really don’t want to see Hong Kong like this,” he told SCMP.
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