HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong’s leader Donald Tsang criticized the handling of a hostage crisis in the Philippine capital on Monday in which seven Hong Kong tourists were killed after police commandos stormed the bus they were held in for more than 10 hours.
A gunman, identified as 55-year-old ex-police captain Rolando Mendoza who was armed with an M-16 assault rifle, held 15 tourists hostage on a wide road in Manila’s biggest park in the morning.
Two more hostages were seriously wounded.
“It is most regrettable,” said Tsang who appeared close to tears during a press conference. “The way it was handled, particularly the outcome, I find is disappointing,” said Tsang.
Others in Hong Kong reacted with shock and some anger after what appeared to an ineffective rescue operation, with thousands glued to their television sets as live footage of the hostage drama played on local television for much of the day.
Such hostage incidents are extremely rare for residents of the financial hub and former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Police commandos could be seen breaking the windows of the bus minutes after a series of gunshots were heard and the driver of the bus was seen running to safety.
The commandos then struggled repeatedly to smash their way into the bus for over half an hour. As they did so, further gunshots could be heard, causing the officers to duck down and take cover. After around an hour the gunman was eventually killed and the hostages freed.
“It’s a tragedy and a farce,” said Kevin Chan, a Hong Kong resident. “Why did it take them so long to get into the bus? They’re not well disciplined and trained. Are they crazy?”
Another Hong Kong resident Sunny Ho said things could have been handled through calmer negotiations rather than brute force.
“It’s really tragic, the Philippine police and government are totally incompetent. The government should have agreed to the request of the gunman and rescued the people first!” Ho said.
A batch of hostages including three children were earlier freed. “I hope the Philippines government can give me a full account of what happened,” Tsang said.
Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani