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Opening remarks by Commissioner of Police at press conference

Following are the opening remarks by the Commissioner of Police, Mr Lo Wai-chung, at the press conference today (February 9):

     Yesterday evening, a large number of violent radicals maliciously damaged Government properties and Police vehicles, committed acts of arson and attacked police officers on duty as well as media workers covering the incident in Nathan Road, Shantung Street, Nelson Street, Argyle Street and its vicinities in Mong Kok.
     Police strongly condemn the unlawful behaviour of the protesters leading to these serious disturbances. In this incident, it was discovered that some people transported supplies by vehicles for use by the violent radicals at scene. Police do not rule out that it was an organised and pre-planned action. Police will conduct follow-up investigations and take enforcement actions. The possibility of further arrest actions cannot be ruled out.
     I reiterate that Police have the ability, confidence and determination in handling all unlawful behaviour and will make all efforts to take enforcement actions against those who are responsible. My officers had been working very hard for the last few days at the flower markets to ensure an orderly and peaceful environment for the enjoyment of the public. For last night, they rushed to the scene right after the bus parade event and continued to work until this morning. I salute them and want to thank them all for their perseverance, courage and devotion to duties throughout the period. I also wish to express my gratitude for the support and help from some members of the public and the media at the scene.
     The riot originated from an incident in which at about 10pm last night (February 8), a number of hawkers were selling cooked food at a section of Portland Street between Shantung Street and Nelson Street in Mong Kok illegally. Officers of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department were surrounded, abused and obstructed in executing their duties and therefore requested assistance from Police.¡¡Police were then deployed to the scene. A large number of people (over 200) were found gathering on the carriageway. Their presence endangered public safety and other road users.
     Police gave repeated advice and warning to the people at the scene, urged them to return to the pavement but they refused to comply and pushed the officers. The radical individuals held self-made weapons and shields to shove the Police officers that led to further confrontations.
     The situation escalated and turned into a serious disturbance and subsequently a riot. A large number of violent radicals set fires in various places thereby endangering public safety and public order. Ignoring Police advice, some protesters moved objects to obstruct the carriageways and threw bricks prized from the pavement in order to attack Police officers. To safeguard public safety and public order, Police exercised most restraint as far as possible and used the minimum level of force including using baton and pepper spray, to stop the unlawful violent acts. However, the violent radicals kept throwing hard objects such as bricks, rubbish bins and glass bottles at officers from a short distance. A number of Police officers were injured and sustained head injuries. Some violent radicals also maliciously damaged police vehicles at scene.
     Up to this time, nearly 90 police officers sustained injuries and required medical treatment. Some officers were wounded by broken glass and sustained head injuries after being hit by hard objects. The scope of injuries included: bone fractures, lacerations to forehead and face, bleeding nose and other abrasions and bruises. Some media workers who were covering the incident were also injured. Some of our officers remained in hospital for observations or awaiting treatment.
     Police have all along exercising great restraint in handling the riot but you have seen from the TV live broadcast, the malicious acts of these rioters. At about 2am, at the junction of Argyle Street and Shanghai Street, rioters attacked a Police officer with hard objects and threatened his life. He fell onto the ground but was kept attacked by the rioters. With no alternative, his Police colleague used his firearm in accordance with the use of force principles to prevent his fellow colleague from being further attacked and also for his own personal safety.
     I stress that Police have strict guidelines on the use of force and strictest training for our officers on the use of firearms. The officer made a judgment which he considered correct in accordance with the principles of the use of force and the prevailing circumstances which were presented before him at the scene.
     So far, Police have arrested 54 people (including 47 men and 7 women), aged 15 to 70, for unlawful assembly, assaulting police, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct in public place, possession of offensive weapons and obstructing Police officer. Should evidence review, we will consider charging the arrested persons for participating in a riot.
     The Hong Kong community does not want to see such violent disturbance, it is particularly saddening to have occurred on first day of the festive Lunar New Year. Police reiterate that we respect the public's right of freedoms of expression but at the same time we have the duty of ensuring public safety and public order as well as protecting the safety of the public and the reporters who are going about their business on the street. Resolute enforcement actions will be taken against any illegal acts to preserve public order and safeguard public safety.

     Tonight, there will be the fireworks display in the Victoria Harbour. I appeal to member of the public to take heed of Police officers¡¯ instructions and conduct themselves in an orderly fashion at the scene. If suspicious persons or activities are seen, they should call the Police and they should also stay away from disturbances if any during tonight¡¯s event.

     I repeat, we will absolutely not tolerate any violent behaviour which has crossed the line of law and order. We will take resolute action to interdict such acts and bring those who are responsible to justice.

Ends/Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Issued at HKT 19:54


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