China offers support for Hong Kong after New Year violence

Rioters confront police in the Mong Kok area of Hong Kong on Feb 9, 2016.
Rioters confront police in the Mong Kok area of Hong Kong on Feb 9, 2016. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's central government firmly supports Hong Kong authorities and police in safeguarding public order and punishing those who break the law, the foreign ministry has said in Beijing's first reaction to a riot in Hong Kong earlier this week.

Sixty-four people have been arrested in connection with the violence on Monday (Feb 8) night, the first day of the Lunar New Year holiday, when protesters hurled bricks at police and set fire to rubbish bins in Mong Kok, a tough, working-class neighbourhood just across the harbour from the heart of the Asian financial centre. Thirty-seven were charged on Thursday (Feb 11).

China's foreign ministry said in a statement late on Thursday (Feb 11) that Hong Kong was a society with the rule of law.

"The Chinese central government believes and firmly supports the Hong Kong government and the police in safeguarding social security, protecting Hong Kong residents and their property, and punishing illegal and criminal activities in accordance with the law," the statement said.

Police fired two warning shots into the air, almost unheard of in the former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 and is considered one of Asia's safest cities. More than 130 people were wounded in the clashes.

The violence has compounded a sense of unease since an"Occupy Central" pro-democracy movement in late 2014 that saw thousands of protesters block major roads, including in Mong Kok, to demand Beijing's Communist leaders allow full democracy in the city.

At least one of those charged in connection with this week's trouble belongs to a group called Hong Kong Indigenous, one of a cluster of outspoken groups calling for greater Hong Kong autonomy and even independence from China, the group said.

China's Foreign Ministry said the riot was "plotted mainly by a local radical separatist organisation". "The violence quickly subsided as the Hong Kong police took effective measures in a professional manner with restraint and in accordance with the law," the statement said.