Protesters stand in front of the police Saturday during a mass rally in Yuen Long, Hong Kong. Photo by Ritchie B Tongo/EPA-EFE
July 29 (UPI) -- After eight weeks of protests in Hong Kong, the Chinese government made a rare statement Monday to support leaders and police on the island territory, and said rioters must face swift punishment.
Violence has persisted in Hong Kong since the introduction of an extradition bill to allow Beijing to bring fugitives to the mainland for trial. Protests began immediately and the unrest ultimately led Hong Kong lawmakers to shelve the bill. Activists, however, have said they will continue demonstrations until the proposal is dead.
Monday, in its first news conference in over 20 years, China's Hong Kong affairs office said the island will suffer unless the rallies stop.
"No civilized society or rule of law society will tolerate rampant violence," said Yang Guang, a spokesman for the council on Hong Kong affairs. "In our view, the most dangerous situation in Hong Kong is that violent crimes have not been effectively stopped.
"The most important task of Hong Kong at present is to resolutely punish violent crimes according to law, restore social stability as soon as possible and safeguard Hong Kong's good legal system."
The remarks followed new demonstrations in Hong Kong over the weekend. A group of activists in black shirts marched down a main Hong Kong road Sunday, where police stood guard. The protest was staged to denounce officers using tear gas and rubber bullets at a rally last week.
Police said they arrested nearly a dozen people and at least four officers were injured. Two dozen people were hospitalized.
Guang also said rumors that Chinese police were involved in brutal assaults this month against the protesters were "unfounded." On July 21, mobs attacked protesters boarding a train after a night of demonstrations in downtown Hong Kong.
If Hong Kong asks for Beijing's help, mainland China could get involved, a defense ministry official said last week.
The People's Daily, a state-run news outlet, urged Hong Kong police to "do what needs to be done" to end the protests, referring to protesters as "thugs" and "militants."
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has faced calls to resign over her handling of the controversy, but the council offered her full support Monday.