Hong Kong violence prompts reminder that China troops close at hand

Hong Kong violence prompts reminder that China troops close at hand
By James Pomfret and Clare Jim

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police shot and critically wounded a protester and a man was set on fire on Monday in violence that prompted leader Carrie Lam to denounce “enemies of the people” and drew a chilling warning from a senior Chinese newspaper editor.

Protesters threw petrol bombs at police after a weekend of clashes across the Chinese-ruled territory, marking a dramatic escalation in more than five months of often violent pro-democracy unrest.

“The violence has far exceeded the call for democracy and the demonstrators are now the people’s enemy,” Hong Kong chief executive Lam said in a defiant televised address.

“If there’s still any wishful thinking that by escalating violence, the Hong Kong … government will yield to pressure, to satisfy the so-called political demands, I’m making this statement clear and loud here: that will not happen.”

Police fired tear gas in the narrow streets of the Central business district where some protesters, crouching behind umbrellas, blocked streets as office workers crowded the pavements and hurled anti-government abuse.

Some passersby took cover inside the Landmark mall, one of the oldest and most expensive, as volleys of tear gas rained down.

There have been almost daily protests in Hong Kong, but it was rare for tear gas to be fired during working hours in Central, lined with bank headquarters and top-brand shops. Some offices closed early.

China has a garrison of up to 12,000 troops in Hong Kong who have kept to barracks throughout the unrest, but it has vowed to crush any attempts at independence, a demand for a very small minority of protesters.

The editor in chief of China’s Global Times tabloid, published by the state-owned People’s Daily, said Hong Kong police had nothing to be scared of.

“You have the backing of not only Hong Kong and Chinese people, but also Chinese soldiers and People’s Liberation Army in Hong Kong,” Hu Xijin wrote on his blog. “They can go into Hong Kong to provide support at any time.”

SHOOTING CAUGHT ON VIDEO

Police fired live rounds at close range at protesters in Sai Wan Ho on the eastern side of Hong Kong island and one 21-year-old protester was wounded. Police said the victim was in critical condition.

Resident Anson Yip, 36, said protesters were building a road block when police ran to the scene.

“They didn’t fight and the police ran and directly shot. There were three sounds, like ‘pam, pam, pam’,” Yip said.

Video footage showed polystyrene boxes and other debris littering a crossing and blocking traffic. A protester wearing a white hoodie and mask walks towards a policeman, as if to challenge him. The officer draws his gun and points it at him at close range and grabs him round the neck.

As the officer holds the man with his left hand, he shoots another approaching masked protester at close range with his right hand. Three shots ring out and the man falls to the ground.

The fallen man is pinned to the ground by an officer holding a gun to his head. The man in white escapes.

A friend visited the wounded man in hospital.

“My friend didn’t actually attack the police or do anything,” Rigan, 19, said. “They just shot him. My friend is optimistic, friendly and willing to help others.”

The man fell just a couple of metres from a large makeshift memorial to a student who died from a fall in a car park last week, the blood staining the street next to candles, flowers, and anti-government posters.

“The live rounds fired by police are clear evidence of reckless use of force,” Amnesty International Hong Kong said in a statement. “Another policeman was seen driving at high speed into a group of protesters on a motorbike. These are not policing measures – these are officers out of control with a mindset of retaliation.”

Police said the motorcycling officer had been suspended.

Video images online also showed a man dousing petrol on another and setting him on fire outside Ma On Shan Plaza in the New Territories. Engulfed in flames, the man was able to rip off his shirt and douse the blaze. Police said he was in critical condition.

More than 60 people were wounded on Monday, Lam said in her address.

CAMPUS CHAOS

The unrest also spread to densely populated Mong Kok on the Kowloon peninsula, often the site of street clashes. Police used water cannon and tear gas to try to break up protesters who regrouped, digging up bricks to throw at police and blocking Nathan Road, a major artery. A taxi driver who drove close to the crowds was beaten.

The clashes looked set to last into the night as they have done many times before.

Police said more than 120 places has been either vandalised or blocked on Monday. Some 266 people had been arrested since last Monday.

Protesters are angry about what they see as police brutality and meddling by Beijing in the freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony by the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering and has blamed Western countries for stirring up trouble.

The violence comes after student Chow Tsz-lok, 22, died in hospital last week following a fall as protesters were being dispersed by police.

Police fired tear gas at Chinese University, where students hurled petrol bombs and barricaded the campus like a fortress. There were at least four arrests.

“I feel a strong sense of helplessness,” said one Chinese University student who gave his name as Chan. “Who wouldn’t want to attend class if they could? The government still isn’t listening to us.”

The university said it would again suspend classes on Tuesday.

Protesters threw petrol bombs at police at the Polytechnic University on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour. Petrol bombs were also thrown at Hong Kong University on the main island.

Hong Kong’s stock market <.HSI>, closed down 2.6%, outpacing losses in other parts of the region.

(Reporting by Jessie Pang, Clare Jim, Kate Lamb, Josh Smith, Sarah Wu, Donny Kwok, Twinnie Siu, Anne Marie Roantree; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Anniversary of fatal Charlottesville rally puts city, D.C. on edge

White nationalists participate in a torch-lit march on the grounds of the University of Virginia ahead of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11, 2017. Picture taken August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

By Joseph Ax and Makini Brice

(Reuters) – Joan Fenton knows she will not make much money at her Charlottesville gift shop this weekend when the downtown district will be virtually locked down for the anniversary of last year’s deadly white nationalist rally. But like many other owners, she will be open anyway.

“They want to be open in solidarity with the community,” Fenton said. “They feel that not being here is giving in to fear and terror.”

Officials in Charlottesville have vowed a massive police presence – with some 1,000 personnel assigned – to deter any violence.

The “Unite the Right” rally last August, called to protest the removal of a Confederate statue, turned the picturesque Virginia college town into a chaotic scene of street brawls, and one woman was killed when an Ohio man rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

The organizer of last year’s event, white nationalist Jason Kessler, was denied a permit in Charlottesville this year but has secured permission to hold a demonstration on Sunday in Washington, across the street from the White House.

Washington officials said on Thursday that police were ready for the rally as well as five planned counterprotests that could attract close to 2,000 people in all.

Officers will endeavor to keep the two sides separate, Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said. Guns will be prohibited from the demonstration area.

Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of neighboring Maryland, said on Friday that “hate has no place in our society,” and that he had directed state agencies to work with their counterparts in Washington and Virginia to ensure the safety of all citizens.

“As we face this invasion of vile and perverted ideology infesting our region, we stand united in our conviction that a diverse and inclusive Maryland is a stronger Maryland,” he said.

UNPRECEDENTED LOCKDOWN

Amid continuing controversy over President Donald Trump’s views on race, the events will likely revive memories of his comments after Charlottesville when he said both sides were to blame for the violence. The remarks sparked criticism from across the political spectrum as the Republican president refused to condemn the white nationalists.

In Charlottesville, officials have announced an unprecedented lockdown of the bustling downtown district. Vehicles are prohibited, and pedestrians will be allowed in at only two checkpoints, where police will confiscate contraband.

Prohibited items include everything from metal pipes and swords to fireworks and skateboards.

Guns, however, can still be legally carried. After last year’s violence, the city asked the state legislature to ban firearms from major public events, but the bill failed to advance.

It is not clear whether any white nationalists will come to Charlottesville this weekend, but officials said they were preparing for any contingency. Police were widely criticized after last year’s event, where some officers did not intervene to stop fistfights and other mayhem.

Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, pre-emptively declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, a procedural move that freed up additional resources.

Many business owners have said the plan is too restrictive and will cost them significant revenue on what would normally be a busy summer weekend. Merchants already suffered a downturn after last year’s event; sales tax revenue dropped 11 percent in September 2017 compared with the year before, according to city figures.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)

More than 80 arrested as riot police break up St. Louis protest over officer’s acquittal

Police detain protesters arrested for causing damage to local businesses during the second night of demonstrations after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 16, 2017.

By Valerie Volcovici and Kenny Bahr

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – More than 80 people were arrested on Sunday night as protests in St Louis over the acquittal of a white policeman who had shot a black man turned violent for a third night running.

Police in riot gear used pepper spray and arrested the demonstrators who had defied orders to disperse following a larger, peaceful protest.

After nightfall, a small group remained and the scene turned to one of disorder, following the pattern of Friday and Saturday. Protesters smashed windows and attempted to block a ramp to an interstate highway, police and witnesses said.

Officers tackled some protesters who defied police orders and used pepper spray before starting the mass arrests.

At a late-night news conference, Mayor Lyda Krewson noted that “the vast majority of protesters are non-violent,” and blamed the trouble on “a group of agitators.”

Acting police commissioner Lawrence O’Toole struck a hard stance, saying: “We’re in control, this is our city and we’re going to protect it.”

The protests in St Louis followed the acquittal on Friday of former police officer Jason Stockley, 36, of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24.

The violence evoked memories of the riots following the 2014 shooting of a black teenager by a white officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.

Police reported confiscating weapons including handguns and recovered plastic spray bottles containing an unknown chemical that hit officers, who were then decontaminated.

“This is no longer a peaceful protest,” St. Louis police said on Twitter earlier.

Shopkeepers clean up shattered glass during the second night of demonstrations after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 16, 2017.

Shopkeepers clean up shattered glass during the second night of demonstrations after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 16, 2017. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

Protesters broke large ceramic flowerpots and threw chunks of the ceramic at storefront windows.

Sunday’s gathering was the largest of the three nights with more 1,000 protesters. Police in turn deployed their largest show of force, as officers in riot gear marched through the streets.

“Do they think this will make us feel safe?” said Keisha Lee of Ferguson, shaking her head.

Police ordered a group of news photographers to stand up against a wall. One, Kenny Bahr, was working on assignment for Reuters and posted the incident live on Facebook until he was placed in handcuffs when he turned off his video. The photographers were released after about 30 minutes.

Earlier in the evening a handful of demonstrators threw bottles in response to a police officer making arrests.

As people converged on an unmarked police car holding one suspect, an officer drove through the crowd in reverse to escape, police said. No injuries were reported.

The protests began on Friday shortly after the acquittal on Friday, when 33 people were arrested and 10 officers injured.

Violence flared anew on Saturday night when about 100 protesters, some holding bats or hammers, shattered windows and skirmished with police in riot gear, resulting in at least nine arrests. Sunday’s arrests again followed earlier peaceful, and far larger, protests.

Protesters participate in a "Die-In" on the third day of demonstrations after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, outside police headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 17, 2017.

Protesters participate in a “Die-In” on the third day of demonstrations after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, outside police headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

More serious clashes broke out in 2014 in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, following the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer who was not indicted.

The Ferguson protests gave rise to Black Lives Matter, a movement that has staged protests across the United States.

An informal group known as the Ferguson frontline has organized the protests, focusing on what it describes as institutional racism that has allowed police to be cleared of criminal wrongdoing in several shootings of unarmed black men.

“Windows can be replaced. Lives can’t,” said Missy Gunn, a member of Ferguson frontline and mother of three including a college-age son. She said she feared for him every night.

Smith was shot in his car after Stockley and his partner chased him following what authorities said was a drug deal. Prosecutors argued that Stockley planted a weapon in Smith’s car, but the judge believed the gun belonged to Smith.

 

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Kenny Bahr in St Louis and Chris Michaud in New York; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Mary Milliken, Peter Cooney and Toby Chopra)