By Elaine Yu
Armed with wooden poles and ransacked road signs, pro-democracy protesters and their opponents fought an extraordinary battle on a Hong Kong street, exposing deep ideological fault lines coursing through the city.
Dozens of unidentified men charged onto a road where protesters had been walking and attacked them with long wooden poles on Monday night.
The shocking scenes – captured on film – showed the demonstrators fighting back against the men, pelting them with traffic cones and even turning their aggressors’ weapons against them.
Cars, including taxis and a Mercedes-Benz, were also caught up in the melees as both sides fought over street fencing dividing the thoroughfare.
The men were eventually chased away, with protesters smashing the windows of a nearby building where they believed some of the attackers had taken refuge as a man inside brandished a meat cleaver.
The clashes illustrate the polarisation of Hong Kong after two months of pro-democracy protests and clashes that pose the biggest threat to Beijing’s authority since Hong Kong’s handover from the British in 1997.
Men in white are attacking protesters in North Point with large sticks. #HongKong #NoToChinaExtradition #china #antiELAB https://t.co/xTFFQ9TiE5 23 men – some with triad backgrounds – were arrested over a similar incident in June, which left 45 injured. pic.twitter.com/GeeYfSTVm2
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) August 5, 2019
North Point, a district on the main island where the clashes took place, was historically a communist stronghold during British rule.
It is known for its large community of Fujianese people who migrated from the mainland province in the 1960s and have long maintained strong family and clan links there.
During the 1967 leftist riots – in which more than 50 people died – North Point was often the epicentre of the violence.
Police famously landed by helicopter on the roof of an apartment building and discovered a leftist headquarters.
The riots were sparked by widespread social discontent towards the colonial government over widespread corruption and poverty. But they were also fuelled by the influence of the Cultural Revolution which was raging on the mainland at the time.
Popular opinion soon turned against the leftists who left hundreds of bombs across the city and murdered a well-known anti-communist radio commentator. Two young children were killed by a bomb left in North Point.
Monday’s clashes in North Point took place during the most sustained and widespread day of battles with Hong Kong police, who fired 800 tear gas canisters in at least a dozen locations and made 148 arrests.
After sunset, messaging forums used by anti-government protesters began circulating pictures of unidentified men holding sticks standing on North Point’s streets.
The scenes were reminiscent of shocking violence two weeks ago when suspected triad members in white T-shirts, armed with poles and batons, set upon anti-government protesters and bystanders at a train station in the town of Yuen Long close to the Chinese border.
— Poppie (@jesuispoppie) August 5, 2019
The men in North Point weren’t dressed alike, and unlike the Yuen Long assailants – who ambushed their targets and hospitalised 45 people – they were soon bested.
The city also witnessed a rare general strike that day with activists disrupting vital rush-hour commuter train services and blocking major roads.
That sparked other flashpoint clashes from people either opposed to the protests or that day’s disruption.
One video, verified by AFP, showed a car smashing its way through a protester roadblock in the northern town of Yuen Long.
Another showed a taxi ramming protesters who hurled projectiles as it sped by.