Following a weekend of violent clashes that left dozens injured and many more arrested, the authorities in Hong Kong have slammed hardcore protesters, with police having to defend the firing of a warning gunshot - the first time a live bullet has been released since the protests began in March.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Operations Mak Chin Ho yesterday said 86 people were arrested over the weekend, with the youngest aged 12 and oldest 52.
He said they were caught for offences including unlawful assembly, assaulting officers and possession of offensive weapons. A total of 21 officers sustained injuries.
Police fired 215 tear gas canisters, 72 rubber bullets, 44 sponge rounds and four bean bag rounds during the weekend clashes.
At a briefing, Mr Mak addressed the uproar over Sunday night's incident when six officers fighting off protesters in Tsuen Wan had little choice but to draw their pistols, with one officer firing a warning shot into the air as their lives were threatened.
The officers involved are from the Emergency Unit of New Territories South and were deployed to contain extremely violent protesters who had vandalised shops and entertainment venues in Yi Pei Square in Tsuen Wan at about 8pm.
"Over 100 rioters armed with offensive weapons surrounded and attacked our officers," said Mr Mak, who added that the officers' protective gear was smashed.
"They charged at our colleagues with road signs, metal poles and long sticks repeatedly and recklessly. As a result, our officers sustained multiple serious injuries."
At one point, one officer fell "but rioters still charged at him brutally" in a "clear intention to take his life", he pointed out. The six officers then held up their revolvers as a precautionary measure.
At a separate briefing, the Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung said he was deeply saddened by the violent scenes.
The Hospital Authority said 38 people were taken to hospitals following the clashes, and one male patient is in a critical condition. TVB later reported that the number injured and sent to hospital had climbed to 41.
The developments came on the 12th weekend of brutal clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police, following a brief respite during the 11th weekend, which saw peaceful protests.
Violent clashes on Sunday took place after an approved march from Kwai Chung Sports Ground, where a national flag was removed and trampled on, to Tsuen Wan Park.
Some protesters deviated from the original route during the procession, blocked roads and wantonly attacked officers with items such as bricks and iron rods before hurling petrol bombs at police vehicles and officers in a street battle in Tsuen Wan.
Protesters gathered again in Sham Shui Po last night, blocking traffic and erecting barricades near the police station there.
Hong Kong has been roiled in unrest since demonstrations against an extradition Bill - that critics say could allow China to target government foes - escalated from June 9.
Yesterday, some 40 protesters held a sit-in demonstration at Revenue Tower in Wan Chai to press the government to accept the demands of extradition Bill opponents, including the full withdrawal of the Bill which is now suspended.