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An injured TV journalist, center, is helped by his colleague and a riot policeman after being hit by a stone thrown by a protester onto his face during a clash

at Mong Kok district in Hong Kong, China, Feb 9, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]

Violence had nothing to do with govt policy on hawkers, chief executive says

A senior central government official in Hong Kong has strongly condemned last week's Chinese New Year riot in Mong Kok.

The riot, which began on the night of Feb 8 and lasted until the following morning, was hatched by "extreme separatist forces" that had become more emboldened and better organized, with increasingly violent acts that showed terrorist tendencies, Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Central People's Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong, said on Sunday.

The whole city was shocked at the events that unfolded, Zhang said, noting that it conflicted with the public's shared aspirations of harmony, stability and the pursuit of happiness.

He said Hong Kong as a whole abhorred the prospect of the city descending into chaos, adding that he believed the Special Administrative Region government and police would respond within the confines of the law to prevent a small minority of separatists from committing irrevocable damage to the rule of law.

Zhang also lashed out at the opposition camp's attempts to justify the violence, arson and destruction of private and public property, condemning efforts to categorize the incident as anything less than a riot.

In a rebuttal to opposition claims and widespread media assertions that protesters were responding to a crackdown on unlicensed fish ball vendors, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the violence wrought last week had nothing to do with government policy on hawkers.

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department workers were merely patrolling the area and had not taken any action to remove hawkers, yet were surrounded by protesters and requested police assistance, he said.

The protesters hurled bricks at police and set fire to rubbish bins in Mong Kok, where more than 100 people were injured.

Leung said the characterization of events as a crackdown on small-scale merchants was unfair, pointing out the government's strong efforts and investment in poverty alleviation over the past four years.

Those efforts, pending passage over opposition filibusters, will continue - with much work remaining on housing, employment and livelihoods to help disaffected members of society, Leung said.

Sixty-five people have been arrested in connection with the incident, with 40 facing charges including rioting, which carries a 10-year maximum prison sentence.

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