Beijing’s top man in Hong Kong broke his silence over the Mong Kok riot on Sunday morning, branding those who took part “violent separatists” who were “inclined towards terrorism”. He also

called the rioters “thugs”.

The searing indictment by Zhang Xiaoming, director of the central government’s liaison office, is a further indication of Beijing’s tougher line on social unrest in Hong Kong, putting the rioters in a similar category with separatists in the Tibet and Xinjiang regions.

But when asked if Hong Kong needs to enact its own national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law in the wake of Monday night’s violence, Zhang said he did not want to link the two issues for now.

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Zhang was speaking after the spring reception of the rural group, the Heung Yee Kuk, on Sunday, almost a week after the overnight mayhem which saw 65 people arrested on rioting and other charges.

“We, like many Hongkongers, were shocked and distressed by the Mong Kok riot,” said Zhang. “I strongly condemn the violent and illegal acts of … those thugs.”

The actions of these “radical separatists” were “leaning towards terrorism”, he added.

“Those who argue the riot is justifiable have failed to distinguish between right and wrong, black and white,” Zhang said, while expressing confidence that the city’s government and police force would bring the rioters to justice.

“We will not [allow] this very small number of separatists to destroy the most precious rule of law in Hong Kong,” he said. “I am sure justice will definitely prevail over all kinds of evil.”

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying reinforced Zhang’s message that the rioters only represented a small minority in Hong Kong.

He promised to support any police demands for more manpower and equipment following their evaluation of the force’s response to Monday night’s chaos.

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“There are indeed some people, although a small proportion, trying to reflect some extreme political demands through escalating violence,” he said. “Therefore, the police force must have sufficient manpower and equipment in facing these new challenges.”

Leung noted that most of those arrested were jobless people, rather than students, and he urged political parties not to try to justify the riot.