HONG KONG • Hong Kong police have arrested a student activist suspected of involvement in the Mongkok riot over the Chinese New Year, even as they said they would begin an inquiry into whether police officers had acted appropriately when they fired two shots in the air during the mayhem.
Mr Derek Lam Shun Hin, 22, a member of student activist group Scholarism, was arrested at Hong Kong International Airport yesterday as he was about to leave with his family for a planned week-long trip to Taiwan, reported the Hong Kong Free Press website.
It quoted a Scholarism statement as saying that Mr Lam, a student, was in Mongkok on Monday at about 10pm - about the time that the skirmishes between protesters and police started - to visit street hawkers.
"He left Mongkok at about 2.15am on Tuesday morning, and did not attack any policemen or (do) anything violent," the statement said.
Police yesterday arrested another man in relation to the riot, reported the South China Morning Post (SCMP) newspaper. Together with 61 arrested on Tuesday, a total of 63 people have been detained, including nine women, and ranging in age from 15 to 70.
Hong Kong's Mongkok district around the Portland Street area descended into mayhem on Monday night after protesters confronted hawker control personnel who were cracking down on illegal street hawkers there.
Ten hours of violent confrontation between the police and about 400 to 500 protesters ensued, leading to more than 130 people being taken to hospital, including five reporters and 90 police officers, two of whom were seriously hurt.
According to the SCMP, police officers at the scene at the beginning were mainly traffic police without riot gear, and they were surrounded by a hostile crowd that hurled objects at them. When one of them fell to the ground and continued to be assaulted, a police officer pulled out a gun and fired two shots into the air.
The warning shots will now be the subject of an inquiry into whether the officer acted appropriately, although police chief Lo Wai Chung had earlier defended the officer, saying he acted because rioters had continually attacked his injured colleague.
Yesterday, former security minister Regina Ip said in a radio broadcast that the government must find ways to resolve the city's "deep-rooted" problems, including its education system, reported SCMP. She added that "this sort of out-of-control situation is something Hong Kong has never seen before, and police can think about room for improvement".
On Tuesday, street hawkers were back in the streets where the rioting had taken place. Some sought to distance themselves from the protesters.
One of them, Mr Leo Chan, who sold ceramic cups, was quoted by SCMP as saying that there was no clash between police and hawkers on Monday night. "If I am going to lose money this year, the demonstrators definitely helped," he said.
Hong Kong's unlicensed street vendors, who hawk their wares in the run-up to the Chinese New Year and during the first few days of the festive holidays, have been traditionally tolerated. But the government decided to crack down on them this year after receiving complaints from residents about the risks to public hygiene and safety, especially during the Chinese New Year.