HK police shows restraint as those around the world use force to clamp down on protests

By Zhao Yu and Zhao Tingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2019/10/28 20:43:40

Editor's Note: 

From Spain to the UK and from Chile to Bolivia, protests have rocked the streets. Some of these countries include those considered democratic countries or development models for their regions. 

Despite the different reasons for the protests in these countries, the police and relevant departments hold the same firm attitude on dealing with protests. Compared to them, Hong Kong police, who have experienced serious threats for the past weeks, are restrained and cautious.

Police clashes with pro-independence protesters during a demonstration called by the local Republic Defense Committees, outside the Spanish police headquarters in Barcelona on October 26. Photo: AFP

Catalonia: Dispersed within 30 minutes

In a recent protest in Barcelona, pro-Catalonia independence protesters gathered near the Arc de Triomf, in city center. At 6 pm on October 18, they marched toward Catalonia Square. After closely monitoring the situation on the ground, a Spanish police helicopter circled around the area. 

Business representatives of stores and shops in the area rushed to close their stores as protesters passed by to avoid "collateral damage" as peaceful protests often turn into violence at night. 

Stores and restaurants in the Catalan capital experienced a drop in sales of between 30 percent and 50 percent following recent street protests, according to local media reports, citing data from a trade and tourism association Barcelona Oberta. 

Violent clashes between protesters and police turned the city known for Gaudí's masterpiece into a warzone with tear gas and rubber bullets. 

By nightfall, radical protesters wearing masks used burning trash bins to set fire to traffic junctions. A strong smell of alcohol and marijuana became palpable when protesters gathered together, chanting out offensive words toward the police officers. 

The police on the ground, including the Spanish police and the Mossos d'Esquadra (the autonomous police force of Catalonia), remained restrained, in spite of continuous provocation from radicals. Around 10pm, the dispersal work began at the Catalonia Square. Several police vehicles circled the square to disperse protesters by firing tear gas, smoke shell and beanbag rounds. 

Unlike Hong Kong riot police, who always confront radical protesters face-to-face, police in Catalonia protests conducted dispersal from police vehicles. Though some rioters threw Molotov cocktails at the car, police drove fast to avoid being hit. 

Some rioters, who failed to target the police car with Molotov cocktails, tried to hide behind a group of journalists wearing orange "press" vest at the corner of the square, as they believed police wouldn't fire tear gas at journalists, but the journalists had to leave soon because the area is full of smoke.

Both Spanish police and the Mossos adopted highly efficient way of dispersing the crowd, and finished the work within 30 minutes. 

While journalists in Hong Kong protests always stand between police and protesters, and sometimes obstruct the police officers with their arms and cameras, reporters in Catalonia protest have little chance of doing the same. 

When the dispersal started, they always stand behind the police, as blocking police law enforcement would mean jail time. 

A photo of a local police officer in Spain holding a banner saying "From Spain, all our support to the police in Hong Kong" widely circulated on social networks. 

"Compared to Spanish police who deals with Catalonia riots, Hong Kong police is too gentle," a Hong Kong police officer who preferred not to be named told the Global Times. 

Effective law enforcement methods serve as a deterrent among pro-independence protesters in Catalonia. 

On October 21 in Barcelona, when protesters passed by the traffic junctions guarded by police officers, some made detours to avoid confrontation with the police. 

On Sunday clashes erupted between police and illegal protesters in Mong Kok where police officers kept moving backward as protesters moving forward. Even when the protesters kept threatening the police, they did not use any force without warning. 

Some netizens called the Hong Kong police the most restrained force in the world. "Protesters want the police to attack them, to advance their ridiculous Hong Kong police brutality narrative," a Twitter user wrote. 

Hong Kong police are the most restraint team in the world and we are proud of them, another Twitter user, Irene Chau, said.

Police monitor as climate activists perch on a make-shift structure in Oxford Street in London on October 18. Photo: AFP

London: Firmly deal with extreme activities

Thousands of protestors marched through London on October 19, demanding a final say on Brexit, reported The Evening Standard. Police officers arrested a 29-year-old man at the Palace of Westminster for trespassing at a protected site during the march.

Only a few days before that, the eco-activists Extinction Rebellion set up a wooden pyramid structure at the junction of Oxford Street and Regent's Street, shutting down bus routes, the Daily Mail reported. 

Local media said Londoner's patience has worn thin and some commuters' took steps to arrest demonstrators themselves at Canning Town tube station. Hayden Green, a commuter at Canning Town, said he saw the protester "dragged to the floor and kicked repeatedly," to the BBC reporters. The activist is grabbed by the knees and dragged down, falling to the platform where he appears to be kicked and hit by angry commuters on the platform.

Government and police have held talks to strengthen public order laws to allow a tougher crackdown on future Extinction Rebellion climate demonstrations considering the group has frequently affected the functioning of British cities, local media reported.

The Home Office and police chiefs have held ongoing talks about changing specific sections of the 1986 Public Order Act, the main legal basis for the British police action, the Guardian reported. 

One senior police source said changes could include lowering the threshold at which police can place restrictions. This means that the prospect of "disruption" is enough to impose tough conditions, not "serious disruption" as the public order act currently states, the report said.

It is worth noting that the British media mostly referred to the demonstration as "Hong Kong-style." The UK newspaper Metro reported that the fourth day of demonstrations focused on London City Airport, where activists attempted a "Hong Kong-style occupation of the terminal building" with hundreds blocking the main entrance. Around 50 were arrested at the east London airport on October 10.

Dozens of protesters, including a 77-year-old rabbi, have been arrested while blocking traffic in London's financial district, the Guardian reported. The rabbi "knelt down in the middle of Lombard Street, after leading a Shacharit festival morning service. He was carried away by police, who at one point appeared to drop him on the floor, after he refused to go with them voluntarily," the Guardian reported.

The police force said 1,832 people were arrested during the protests, and more than 150 were charged with offences, according to the Evening Standard.

Cressida Dick, a metropolitan police commissioner, published an article on October 11 on the Evening Standard to expose the "strategy" of protesters breaking the law.

The commissioner introduced the actions they use against repeat offenders. "We have cleared the bridges and roads they have sought to block, we've dismantled their illegal camps, seized the infrastructure that they have sought to illegally block London with - we've even seized a kitchen sink!" she wrote. A London policeman told the Global Times that any demonstration without prior application would be illegal.

Police monitor as climate activists perch on a make-shift structure in Oxford Street in London on October 18. Photo: AFP

Chile: Model country

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on Saturday added a major cabinet reshuffle to a growing list of reforms he has promised to tame inequality and quell mass protests that have rocked the South American nation, Reuters reported.

Heavily armed soldiers manning roadblocks have enforced strict nightly curfews around the city for seven days. Chile's military said in a statement it would not enforce a curfew on Saturday night.

The protests in Chile, however, have not died out and the military did not leave the streets.

Chile has taken decisive means in confronting the violence in protests compared to other countries. Due to arson and severe conflicts with police in Santiago on October 18, the Chilean president announced a citiywide state of emergency that night. 

Afterwards, Chile announced curfew, demanding people to stay at home at night, which minimized the street violence at the time. Anyone who does not obey the curfew is detained by the military and the police.

As of press time, Chile has deployed more than 10,500 military and police officers to control the violence and chaos. Tanks with fully-equipped soldiers can be seen patrolling the streets.

The Chilean police have used forceful means. Video clips show that the police have not only utilized water cannons, but also vehicles that constantly blast tear gas. Anyone who threw a stone or hard object to the police would be immediately controlled by the police. 

When severe violence happened, the Chilean police use rubber bullets or even real bullets for riot control.

The Chilean government decided to conduct a emergency state and curfew because of the violent and criminal activities in early protests, including burning subways, buses, and other public facilities, as well as looting supermarkets. Pinera even declared "Chile is at war," the Guardian reported.

According to the report of National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) of Chile, the protests have caused 19 deaths. More than 300 people were injured and almost 3,200 were captured. 

The institute has received 70 accusations against the military, including five murders and 50 cases of violently abusing captured protesters. There are also allegations of some soldiers participating in looting while on duty.

Even though some cities have ended curfew, many said there were still many military and police officers patrolling the streets. 

A senior taxi driver told the Global Times that although the government allows people to apply for special permission, he would stay at home at night, because he remembered the fear of curfew during the military government, when people could be killed at gunpoint if they went out.

Newspaper headline: Clash on the streets

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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