- More than 20 elite officers were cornered in New Town Plaza on Sunday night – suffering physical and verbal abuse, according to sources
- Nearly 100 riot police officers said to have taken 30 minutes to find their comrades and help them evacuate
Riot police were sent to a Hong Kong shopping centre on Sunday to rescue more than 20 detectives who were surrounded by extradition bill protesters, with a confrontation between both sides ending in bloody clashes, the Post has learned.
Sources said on Wednesday top brass ordered the deployment after officers from the elite Organised Crime and Triad Bureau were cornered near the entrance of Sha Tin MTR station in New Town Plaza shopping centre on Sunday night.
The 100 officers and detectives, most in full riot gear, took about half an hour to reach their besieged colleagues who were being heaped with verbal abuse and projectiles, according to the sources.
Among the police reinforcements was a sergeant who had part of his finger bitten off and a constable who was kicked down an escalator and assaulted. A number of other officers sent on the rescue mission also ended up clashing with protesters, a law enforcement source said.
The violence broke out after another squad of riot police was deployed to disperse hundreds of protesters who had set up barricades at the junction of Yuen Wo Road and Sha Tin Rural Committee Road at 9.30pm " hours after a stand-off.
Police originally wanted protesters to leave peacefully, a source said, but when a barrage of bricks, helmets and umbrellas was hurled at officers on Wang Pok Street they were forced to react.
Officers chased down protesters who had hurled items from the higher floors of the nearby Lucky Plaza and Sha Tin Centre shopping malls.
At the same time, more than 20 officers from the force's elite Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, led by Chief Superintendent Wong Wai, were deployed near the entrance of the MTR station after receiving an order from the command centre at Wan Chai police headquarters. The station entrance is a public access area.
The officers " who were on the lookout for rowdy protesters " wore helmets, and some were carrying shields. They had pepper spray and handguns.
"Dozens of violent protesters from the earlier confrontation (in Sha Tin) were the target of the arrests," another source said.
As a large crowd of mostly protesters walked toward the railway station, insults were shouted at the officers before they took action and made arrests.
At the start of the crackdown, protesters hurled items such as helmets and bottles of water at police. The crowd then grew rapidly and confrontations became more physical, with punches thrown and umbrellas used to jab officers, according to the source.
Elderly take to streets in support of young extradition bill protesters
The chief superintendent was injured in the left forearm after being hit with an umbrella during the melee, the source said.
This source said the 100 riot police officers took about half an hour to find and rescue their comrades and help them evacuate the mall.
"Soon after riot police entered the shopping centre, the officers were confronted by protesters who feared they would be chased down and arrested," he said.
The source said he believed more than half of the 13 injured officers were part of the riot police platoon that had come to rescue the detectives.
The source also said there was a communication problem between on-site commanders who did not know the exact location of the officers who were surrounded.
He said the force would review its operations.
Earlier on Sunday, a peaceful march in Sha Tin drew an estimated 115,000 people before a confrontation started at about 5pm and then descended into violence that left 28 people injured, including 13 police officers. Police arrested 47 people for various offences.
The now-suspended extradition bill would, if passed, allow the transfer of fugitives from Hong Kong to jurisdictions with which it lacks a formal handover arrangement. It has sparked weeks of protests, from critics who say it would leave city residents at risk of unfair prosecution north of the border.
The worsening violence and increasing desperation among police officers prompted a meeting between the four police associations and senior officers on Monday.
Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung pledged in the meeting to make officers' safety a priority when planning strategy and to improve protective gear for plain-clothes officers on the front lines.
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