Hong Kong crisis escalates after mob attack on protesters

  • In this image taken from a video footage run by The Stand News via AP Video, white shirted men attacked a man dressed in black shirt at a subway station in Hong Kong on Sunday, July 21, 2019.  China doesn't want to intervene in Hong Kong's protests but that doesn't mean it won't, as a thuggish attack on the protesters brought accusations of connivance between police and criminal gangs. (The Stand News via AP Video) HONG KONG OUT

    In this image taken from a video footage run by The Stand News via AP Video, white shirted men attacked a man dressed in black shirt at a subway station in Hong Kong on Sunday, July 21, 2019. China doesn't want to intervene in Hong Kong's protests but that doesn't mean it won't, as a thuggish attack on the protesters brought accusations of connivance between police and criminal gangs. (The Stand News via AP Video) HONG KONG OUT Associated Press

  • A broken umbrella flies by near riot police, during confrontation with protesters in Hong Kong Sunday, July 21, 2019. Hong Kong police launched tear gas at protesters Sunday after a massive pro-democracy march continued late into the evening. The action was the latest confrontation between police and demonstrators who have taken to the streets to protest an extradition bill and call for electoral reforms in the Chinese territory. (Andy Lo/HK01 via AP)

    A broken umbrella flies by near riot police, during confrontation with protesters in Hong Kong Sunday, July 21, 2019. Hong Kong police launched tear gas at protesters Sunday after a massive pro-democracy march continued late into the evening. The action was the latest confrontation between police and demonstrators who have taken to the streets to protest an extradition bill and call for electoral reforms in the Chinese territory. (Andy Lo/HK01 via AP) Associated Press

  • In this image taken from a video footage run by The Stand News via AP Video, white shirted men attack a man dressed in black shirt at a subway station in Hong Kong on Sunday, July 21, 2019. China doesn't want to intervene in Hong Kong's protests but that doesn't mean it won't, as a thuggish attack on the protesters brought accusations of connivance between police and criminal gangs. (The Stand News via AP Video) HONG KONG OUT

    In this image taken from a video footage run by The Stand News via AP Video, white shirted men attack a man dressed in black shirt at a subway station in Hong Kong on Sunday, July 21, 2019. China doesn't want to intervene in Hong Kong's protests but that doesn't mean it won't, as a thuggish attack on the protesters brought accusations of connivance between police and criminal gangs. (The Stand News via AP Video) HONG KONG OUT Associated Press

  • FILE - In this file photo taken Sunday, July 21, 2019, protesters react to teargas as they confront riot police officers in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” concept that gives the city a fair degree of autonomy over its affairs, but China may intervene to quell protests now in their seventh week.

    FILE - In this file photo taken Sunday, July 21, 2019, protesters react to teargas as they confront riot police officers in Hong Kong. Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” concept that gives the city a fair degree of autonomy over its affairs, but China may intervene to quell protests now in their seventh week. Associated Press

  • This Sunday, July 21, 2019, image made from a video, shows fighting inside a train car in Hong Kong. Protesters trying to return home were attacked inside a train station by assailants who appeared to target the pro-democracy demonstrators. (Lam Cheuk-ting via AP)

    This Sunday, July 21, 2019, image made from a video, shows fighting inside a train car in Hong Kong. Protesters trying to return home were attacked inside a train station by assailants who appeared to target the pro-democracy demonstrators. (Lam Cheuk-ting via AP) Associated Press

  • This Sunday, July 21, 2019, image made off from a video, shows protesters using water hose on assailants at Yuen Long MTR train station in Hong Kong. Protesters trying to return home were attacked inside a train station by assailants who appeared to target the pro-democracy demonstrators. (Lam Cheuk-ting via AP)

    This Sunday, July 21, 2019, image made off from a video, shows protesters using water hose on assailants at Yuen Long MTR train station in Hong Kong. Protesters trying to return home were attacked inside a train station by assailants who appeared to target the pro-democracy demonstrators. (Lam Cheuk-ting via AP) Associated Press

  • This Sunday, July 21, 2019, image made from a video, shows fighting inside a train car in Hong Kong. Protesters trying to return home were attacked inside a train station by assailants who appeared to target the pro-democracy demonstrators. (Lam Cheuk-ting via AP)

    This Sunday, July 21, 2019, image made from a video, shows fighting inside a train car in Hong Kong. Protesters trying to return home were attacked inside a train station by assailants who appeared to target the pro-democracy demonstrators. (Lam Cheuk-ting via AP) Associated Press

  • This Sunday, July 21, 2019, image taken from a video, shows confrontation between masked assailants and protesters at Yuen Long MTR train station in Hong Kong. Protesters trying to return home were attacked inside a train station by assailants who appeared to target the pro-democracy demonstrators. (Lam Cheuk-ting via AP)

    This Sunday, July 21, 2019, image taken from a video, shows confrontation between masked assailants and protesters at Yuen Long MTR train station in Hong Kong. Protesters trying to return home were attacked inside a train station by assailants who appeared to target the pro-democracy demonstrators. (Lam Cheuk-ting via AP) Associated Press

  • Medical workers help a protester in pain from tear gas fired by policemen on a street in Hong Kong, Sunday, July 21, 2019. Hong Kong police have thrown tear gas canisters at protesters after they refused to disperse. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in a march Sunday to call for direct elections and an independent investigation into police tactics used during earlier pro-democracy demonstrations. Police waved a black warning flag Sunday night before lobbing the canisters into a crowd of protesters.

    Medical workers help a protester in pain from tear gas fired by policemen on a street in Hong Kong, Sunday, July 21, 2019. Hong Kong police have thrown tear gas canisters at protesters after they refused to disperse. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in a march Sunday to call for direct elections and an independent investigation into police tactics used during earlier pro-democracy demonstrations. Police waved a black warning flag Sunday night before lobbing the canisters into a crowd of protesters. Associated Press

  • An egg thrown by a protester hits the National Emblem of the People's Republic of China at the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Sunday, July 21, 2019. Protesters in Hong Kong pressed on Sunday past the designated end point for a march in which tens of thousands repeated demands for direct elections in the Chinese territory and an independent investigation into police tactics used in previous demonstrations.

    An egg thrown by a protester hits the National Emblem of the People's Republic of China at the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Sunday, July 21, 2019. Protesters in Hong Kong pressed on Sunday past the designated end point for a march in which tens of thousands repeated demands for direct elections in the Chinese territory and an independent investigation into police tactics used in previous demonstrations. Associated Press

  • Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to reporters during a press conference in Hong Kong Monday, July 22, 2019. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam denies that police colluded with the masked assailants who indiscriminately attacked residents in a subway station. Lam called "unfounded" allegations that the police were working together with the Yuen Long station assailants, who beat people Sunday evening using steel pipes and wooden poles.

    Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to reporters during a press conference in Hong Kong Monday, July 22, 2019. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam denies that police colluded with the masked assailants who indiscriminately attacked residents in a subway station. Lam called "unfounded" allegations that the police were working together with the Yuen Long station assailants, who beat people Sunday evening using steel pipes and wooden poles. Associated Press

  • Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to reporters questions during a press conference in Hong Kong Monday, July 22, 2019. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam denies that police colluded with the masked assailants who indiscriminately attacked residents in a subway station. Lam called "unfounded" allegations that the police were working together with the Yuen Long station assailants, who beat people Sunday evening using steel pipes and wooden poles.

    Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to reporters questions during a press conference in Hong Kong Monday, July 22, 2019. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam denies that police colluded with the masked assailants who indiscriminately attacked residents in a subway station. Lam called "unfounded" allegations that the police were working together with the Yuen Long station assailants, who beat people Sunday evening using steel pipes and wooden poles. Associated Press

  • Protesters take part in a march on a street in Hong Kong, Sunday, July 21, 2019. Thousands of Hong Kong protesters marched from a public park to call for an independent investigation into police tactics.

    Protesters take part in a march on a street in Hong Kong, Sunday, July 21, 2019. Thousands of Hong Kong protesters marched from a public park to call for an independent investigation into police tactics. Associated Press

  • A protestor kicks a tear gas canister during confrontation in Hong Kong Sunday, July 21, 2019. Hong Kong police launched tear gas at protesters Sunday after a massive pro-democracy march continued late into the evening. The action was the latest confrontation between police and demonstrators who have taken to the streets to protest an extradition bill and call for electoral reforms in the Chinese territory. (Ming Ko/HK01 via AP)

    A protestor kicks a tear gas canister during confrontation in Hong Kong Sunday, July 21, 2019. Hong Kong police launched tear gas at protesters Sunday after a massive pro-democracy march continued late into the evening. The action was the latest confrontation between police and demonstrators who have taken to the streets to protest an extradition bill and call for electoral reforms in the Chinese territory. (Ming Ko/HK01 via AP) Associated Press

  • Protesters are engulfed by teargas during a confrontation with riot police in Hong Kong Sunday, July 21, 2019. Hong Kong police launched tear gas at protesters Sunday after a massive pro-democracy march continued late into the evening. The action was the latest confrontation between police and demonstrators who have taken to the streets to protest an extradition bill and call for electoral reforms in the Chinese territory. (Jacky Cheung/HK01 via AP)

    Protesters are engulfed by teargas during a confrontation with riot police in Hong Kong Sunday, July 21, 2019. Hong Kong police launched tear gas at protesters Sunday after a massive pro-democracy march continued late into the evening. The action was the latest confrontation between police and demonstrators who have taken to the streets to protest an extradition bill and call for electoral reforms in the Chinese territory. (Jacky Cheung/HK01 via AP) Associated Press

 
 
Updated 7/22/2019 3:29 PM

HONG KONG -- An overnight attack by white-clad assailants apparently targeting pro-democracy protesters raised tensions to new levels in Hong Kong on Monday as China harshly criticized the weekend demonstration, saying "central authority cannot be challenged."

The Chinese rebuke came after its Hong Kong office was targeted Sunday night by protesters who pelted it with eggs and spray-painted its walls. It made no mention of the violent attack hours later at a subway station by men wielding iron pipes and wooden poles as they beat up people clad in the pro-democracy movement's black shirts. Dozens were injured.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The attack on China's Liaison Office was an escalation of the weekslong protests, during which demonstrators besieged Hong Kong's legislature and police headquarters but did not direct their ire at China itself. It came after more than 100,000 people marched through the city to demand democracy and an investigation into the use of force by police to disperse crowds at protests.

As demonstrators made their way home, a gang of men descended on a group of them at a subway station. Video of the attack in Hong Kong's Yuen Long neighborhood showed the protesters being beaten by the assailants as they retreated into the trains, intimidated by the gangs of men waiting for them outside the turnstiles. The attackers then entered the trains and beat the people inside as they tried to defend themselves with umbrellas.

At least 45 people were injured, and 15 remained hospitalized Monday afternoon, including one man in critical condition, the Hospital Authority said.

Subway passengers filmed by Stand News and iCABLE angrily accused police officers of not intervening to protect the demonstrators, who have been critical of the police use of force.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Monday that allegations that police had colluded with the assailants were "unfounded."

The Sunday night assault on Beijing's Hong Kong Liaison Office touched a raw nerve in China. China's national emblem, which hangs on the front of the building, was splattered with black ink. It was replaced by a new one within hours.

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The official People's Daily newspaper, in a front-page commentary on Monday headlined "Central Authority Cannot Be Challenged," called the protesters' actions "intolerable."

"These acts openly challenged the authority of the central government and touched the bottom line of the 'one country, two systems' principle," the government's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said in a statement Sunday.

Lam repeated the same statement to reporters Monday, adding that the vandalism "hurt the nation's feelings."

The "one country, two systems" framework, under which the former British colony was returned to China in 1997, allows Hong Kong to maintain a fair degree of autonomy in local affairs. Demonstrators fear the pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong is chipping away at their rights and freedoms, and the weekslong tumult has fueled fears of a more aggressive Chinese response.

In Washington, President Donald Trump said he believes Chinese leader Xi Jinping has acted "very responsibly" in allowing the extended protests to play out in Hong Kong. Asked about China's handling of the protests, he said that "China could stop them if they wanted."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I hope that President Xi will do the right thing. But it has been going on a long time," Trump added, without elaborating.

Meanwhile, a group of pro-China lawmakers held a news conference appealing for a halt to the violence, saying it was a blow to Hong Kong's reputation and was scaring away tourists and investors.

They also urged police to tighten enforcement against the protesters, whom Regina Ip, a former security secretary, called "rebels."

"The violent attack on the Liaison Office ... is a direct affront to the sovereignty of our country," Ip said.

Asked why it took at least a half-hour for police to arrive at the suburban train station where protesters were attacked, she said the police were "overstretched."

"The police have been under extreme pressure," she said.

Later Monday, the office of a pro-Beijing lawmaker was surrounded and vandalized by about 100 people who believed he had shaken hands the previous day with the attackers. Protesters wrote memos and stuck them on legislator Junius Ho's office, damaged glass panels at the entrance and destroyed a surveillance camera. No one appeared to be in the office.

Meanwhile, pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said the Sunday night subway attack showed "more than apparent" involvement from the triad, a branch of organized crime in Hong Kong.

"What happened last night doesn't seem accidental in any way," Mo said. "It's all organized."

The growing crisis in Hong Kong has fueled fears that China's People's Liberation Army may intervene.

A Chinese army brigade said Monday that it held an anti-terrorism exercise in southern Guangdong province. The 74th Army Group did not refer to Hong Kong in its social media statement, but military commentator and retired officer Yue Gang said that troops would be dispatched to the semi-autonomous territory if needed.

"To deface the Chinese national emblem is like acting as an enemy to 1.3 billion Chinese people," Yue said. "They must be deterred."

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the nationalistic Global Times, warned against military intervention.

"If the People's Liberation Army helps to stabilize the situation, Hong Kong will benefit from law and order, but the public opinion won't buy it," Hu wrote in a commentary published on Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging service. The public will "accuse Beijing of undermining 'one country, two systems,'" he said.

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Associated Press writers Ken Moritsugu and Yanan Wang, videojournalist Wong Wai-bor and researcher Shanshan Wang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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