Hospital staff rally for protest campaign after new violence
HONG KONG (AP) — Hundreds of medical staff at one of Hong Kong's main public hospitals rallied Monday to support months of protests for democratic reforms and denounce police use of force, after new violence over the weekend rocked the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Staff at the Prince of Wales Hospital, many wearing black surgical masks, sang protest songs, chanted slogans and formed a human chain, urging the government to resolve the conflict by acceding to protesters' demands, including direct elections for the city's leader and police accountability.
"I hope Hong Kong will be peaceful again. I hope police will stop indiscriminate arrests and their excessive use of force," said a nurse who wanted to be identified only as Ching.
Hospital staff have held several rallies in support of the protest movement. However, about 500 doctors in a letter published in two newspapers on Monday supported the police handling of the crisis and said violence shouldn't be glorified.
The hospital rally came after a pro-democracy march on Sunday in downtown Hong Kong descended into chaos.
Thousands of people, black-clad masked protesters alongside families with children, defied a police ban and peacefully marched 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Causeway Bay shopping district to the central business district. Police had turned down the march permit, but the demonstrators were undeterred, as they have been all summer.
Some protesters later burned Chinese flags and vandalized subway stations. Hundreds of them targeted government buildings, throwing bricks and gasoline bombs through police barriers. Police responded by firing volleys of tear gas and using water cannon trucks to spray pepper-laced water as well as blue liquid that helped police identify offenders. Protesters retreated but regrouped in cat-and-mouse battles lasting a few hours before calm returned.
Pro-Beijing supporters turned up at the North Point and Fortress Hill neighborhoods late Sunday, leading to brawls. Police said Monday that people used hammers and other weapons to attack each other, leading to a number of injuries and forcing police to deploy tear gas.
Police official Tse Chun-Chung said "radical protesters escalated their violent acts" including throwing more than 80 gasoline bombs in the melee Sunday, briefly setting a water cannon on fire. He said some landed on other demonstrators.
In one case, he said protesters hurled gasoline bombs at two police officers, who were forced to take out their pistols as a warning. Tse said the mob also assaulted pro-government supporters, including a man who was beaten until he was unconscious.
Police have detained 89 people since Friday, bringing the total arrests to 1,453 since the protests started in June, he said. He said police will step up enforcement, and that "everyone is a loser" with the persistent violence.
The Hospital Authority said 28 people were hospitalized Sunday.
The government has slammed the illegal acts. It reiterated in a statement Sunday that violence would only harm the community and that it was sincerely trying to solve problems through a dialogue.
The anti-government protests, sparked by an extradition bill that many Hong Kong residents see as an example of the territory's autonomy being eroded under Chinese rule, have been increasingly marked by violence and clashes with police.
The government's decision this month to withdraw the bill was seen by the protesters as too little, too late. Their demands have widened, and some of the more confrontational protesters defend violence as necessary because peaceful demonstrations haven't resulted in change.
In Geneva, Hong Kong lawmaker Tanya Chan urged the U.N. Human Rights Council to probe alleged police brutality against protesters. Chan said police, who have called protesters cockroaches, were carrying out "pest control to curb free speech."
The unrest has battered Hong Kong's economy, which was already reeling from the U.S.-China trade war. It is also seen as an embarrassment to Beijing, which has accused foreign powers of fomenting the unrest.
Protesters have vowed to keep up their protests ahead of the Oct. 1 celebration of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's 70th year in power. The Civil Human Rights Front, whose permit for the Sunday march was denied, plans rallies on Sept. 28 and Oct. 1. Several previous rallies organized by the group drew massive crowds.
Eric Lai, coordinator for the group, said police have banned its rallies to silence peaceful protesters but that it only led to more anger.
"Dialogue is meaningless if the government refuses to respond to the people's demands," he said.
AP journalist Bensun Ho contributed to this report.