Violence escalates in Hong Kong

BEIJING (AP) – A sharp escalation of violence in Hong Kong is once again raising the question of how China’s central government will respond: Will it intervene, or allow the chaos to persist?

The Liaison Office, which represents mainland authorities in Hong Kong, said yesterday that actions in the semi-autonomous territory were “slipping into the abyss of terrorism”. It pointed out that a man was set on fire on Monday during an argument with demonstrators, leaving him in critical condition. On the same day, a police officer shot a protester who was then taken to a hospital, also in critical condition.

While the movement began peacefully in June to oppose a now-withdrawn extradition bill, it has been increasingly defined by smaller groups of hard-core demonstrators bent on sowing chaos. Their actions, which have included setting cars on fire and smashing storefronts, have alienated many residents.

The Liaison Office described the act of setting the man on fire as “flagrant terrorism”, and pledged support for Hong Kong authorities taking measures to curb “various illegal acts of violence and acts of terrorism”.

This label may presage more severe enforcement measures and impact how demonstrators are ultimately prosecuted.

The arrests of pro-democracy activists and booksellers in recent years have raised fears among Hong Kong residents.

Protesters hold up their hands to represent their five demands as protests continue in Central, Hong Kong. PHOTO: AP