February 11, 2016 / 7:53 AM / 3 years ago

Dozens face riot charges over Hong Kong Lunar New Year violence

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Dozens of people in Hong Kong were charged on Thursday with taking part in a riot after a dispute between vendors and police on the first day of the Lunar New Year holiday blew up into city’s worst violence since pro-democracy protests in 2014.

A protester shouts as he is arrested by plainclothes policemen after a clash at Mongkok district in Hong Kong, China February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Liau Chung-ren

Sixty-four people have been arrested in connection with the Monday night violence that saw protesters hurl bricks at police and set fire to rubbish bins in Mong Kok, a tough, working-class neighborhood just across the harbor from the heart of the Asian financial center. Thirty-seven were charged on Thursday.

Police fired two warning shots into the air, almost unheard in the former British colony which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 and is considered one of Asia’s safest cities.

More than 130 people were wounded in the clashes.

The violence has compounded a sense of unease since an “Occupy Central” pro-democracy movement in late 2014 that saw thousands of protesters block major roads, including in Mong Kok, to demand Beijing’s Communist leaders allow full democracy in the city.

At least one of those charged in connection with this week’s trouble belongs to a group called Hong Kong Indigenous, one of a cluster of outspoken groups calling for greater Hong Kong autonomy and even independence from China, the group said.

Hong Kong Indigenous confirmed to Reuters that one of its members, Edward Leung, had been arrested. Leung, who had been planning to contest a by-election for the Hong Kong legislature, was one of those who appeared in court on Thursday.

The head of the University of Hong Kong student union, Billy Fung, said three of its students were also in court. Students from the university were at the forefront of the 2014 protests.

Thirty-eight people, including 35 men and 3 women aged between 15 and 70, were charged with participating in a “riot”, the police said in a statement. The 15-year-old was due to appear in a juvenile court on Friday.

The defendants, who appeared one after another before the court including one with a bandage on his head, were granted bail though ordered to stay away from areas where the clashes took place.

The next hearing will be on April 7, following a request by prosecutor David Leung to allow authorities time to gather evidence.

Rioting carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The violence broke out after police tried to clear hawkers selling snacks and trinkets at stalls on the first day of the Lunar New Year holiday.

Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie

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