HONG KONG • Hundreds of Hong Kong medical workers and other anti-government protesters rallied in the Chinese-ruled city's financial centre yesterday, angry at perceived police brutality during more than four months of sometimes violent unrest.
The demonstrators gathered peacefully, occasionally chanting, "Hong Kong people, resist".
Over the course of the protests, pro-democracy activists have attacked police with petrol bombs and rocks and shone lasers in their eyes. One officer was slashed in the neck with a knife.
Police have responded with tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and occasional live rounds, wounding several protesters, many of whom received roadside treatment from volunteer first aiders.
A 26-year-old nurse, who gave his name only as Stephen, told Reuters that the police would often come into the hospital where he works on the Kowloon peninsula and stand outside the wards or search for protesters in the accident and emergency department.
"Sometimes, they bring their guns and weapons. The patients may be scared. This is not good practice," he said.
"The protesters have injuries. This searching must be done after they are healed."
He said he volunteered as a first aider at protest sites in his spare time. "I didn't tell any of my supervisors - only some colleagues with the same values," he said. "But when I see people injured, I have to provide first aid."
Mr Michael Lau, a registered nurse and one of the organisers of the event at Chater Garden, told RTHK that frontline medical staff were increasingly worried about the injuries suffered by protesters attending demonstrations.
"We strongly condemn overuse of excessive force on civilians and protesters," he said.
He said those at the gathering wanted the police, as professionals, to use the proper amount of force on protesters.
"They can disperse the mass crowds, they can arrest those who break the law, but don't give them serious injuries or leave them in fatal condition," he added.
Police deny accusations of brutality, saying they have shown utmost restraint in life-threatening situations, and issue warnings to protesters with colour-coded signs before they respond with tear gas or baton charges.
Other public health workers at the demonstration said many of their patients were refusing to wear masks, fearing arrest under an anti-mask law recently passed by the government. The health workers said the situation could lead to a sharp rise in seasonal flu cases over the next few months.
The protesters are angry about what they see as creeping Chinese interference in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula intended to guarantee freedoms that are not enjoyed on the mainland.
China denies meddling in Hong Kong's affairs. It has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of inciting the unrest.