Sleepy town of Yuen Long becomes battleground after suspected gangster attack on commuters
Yuen Long, a quiet residential area close to the Chinese border, has become the unlikely next battleground of Hong Kongs protest movement.
Over the last seven weeks, demonstrators have planned rallies across the territory in parks, along main roads, in the airport and outside government offices calling for the withdrawal of an extradition bill and making other political demands. But Yuen Long, known as one of the more remote, isolated areas in the north-west, had never been on the agenda.
On Sunday that changed. Commuters returning from dinner, going to meet friends or some coming back from the pro-democracy rally in central Hong Kong, pulled into the mass transit station to find dozens of men in white T-shirts waiting for them. They were masked, armed with rattan rods and other weapons.
Over the next half hour, passengers were chased, punched and lashed. Some frantically dialled emergency services but got no response. Police arrived after the assailants had gone and left before the men came back a second time. At least 45 people were sent to hospital.
The attack stunned locals, and many suspected the involvement of organised crime groups, the triads, which are active in the villages surrounding Yuen Long. Opposition lawmakers accused authorities of colluding with organised crime groups. Police arrested 12 people in connection with the attack, some with triad backgrounds.
In the immediate aftermath Yuen Long became a ghost town: shops across the main strip were closed and the streets were empty. Some locals rented hotel rooms out of town for a few nights.
Im scared. I think all Hong Kongers are scared,
As businesses gradually returned to normal, residents began bracing themselves for clashes between protesters, the police and suspected gangsters this weekend, as as previously planned demonstration in Kowloon, a commercial and residential district closer to central Hong Kong, on Saturday, was cancelled in order to hold a march in Yuen Long.