More come out in support of Hong Kong's embattled police

Pro-China supporters wave a Chinese national flag to support police and anti-violence during a rally in Hong Kong on Aug 17, 2019. PHOTO: AP

On a blistering hot Saturday morning on Aug 10, a small crowd armed with banners and fruit baskets, and dressed in matching light blue shirts, gathered outside the Wanchai police headquarters in Hong Kong.

At a gate within the 2m-high water-filled barriers now common at government buildings, the group was allowed to stream into the compound where they presented officers with fruits and cards of encouragement, some even posing for photos with officers.

The scene was repeated in several police stations across Hong Kong, the efforts of an increasingly vocal group who have come out in support of police officers, following a call from Beijing to support the city's embattled police force.

Calling themselves the "silent majority", they also enjoy the support of Chinese media, which has gone into overdrive on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook - platforms banned in the mainland - condemning the violence.

After initially scrubbing any mention of the demonstrations from the Internet in June, Beijing has blamed the protests on collusion with "Western forces", before this week dubbing them "the beginning of terrorism".

As the political crisis deepens, there are also fears that Beijing could send in military or paramilitary reinforcements if it deems the city's police force unable to manage the situation.

Hong Kong's law enforcement has come under fire in recent months for what is perceived to be heavy-handed tactics when dealing with protesters, including the frequent use of tear gas even in residential areas, beating largely unarmed protesters with batons and using excessive force when arresting protesters.

As the pro-democracy protests move into the 11th week, many rallies that start out peaceful have descended into violence as protesters clash with police, often after dusk, resulting in pitched street battles with local residents watching and on several occasions, taking the sides of the protesters.

Officers are often referred to as "dogs" while a popular protest chant refers to the police as breaking the law instead of enforcing it.

On Saturday (Aug 17), thousands gathered in Tamar Park next to government headquarters in a rally billed as an anti-violence, pro-government event with attendees waving Chinese flags and singing China's national anthem.

"There are a lot of people who just want peace to return to Hong Kong," said former police officer Clement Lai, who runs security consultancy Clement Shield.

"The silent side of Hong Kong is coming out to support the police and they've become more daring because they see justification for them to do it."

But even as officers have come under attack, both while on duty and in their personal lives - 300 have had their personal information revealed online while others have been heckled and have their children threatened - the force remains certain it can still manage the unrest.

"At the operational level, we have considerable depth. We have the determination, the cohesiveness and the depth of resources to keep going," said a police commander.

He was one of three senior police officers who sat down to an interview with foreign journalists this week on condition of anonymity so they could speak more freely, reported the AFP news agency.

They painted a picture of a force challenged by wildcat protests and hinted at frustration over the intransigence of Beijing and city leader Carrie Lam.

As one of the officers put it: "This is a political issue. And a political issue needs a political solution to solve it."

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