May 15 (UPI) -- An official Hong Kong police watchdog said in a long-awaited report Friday that officers resorted to violence during 10 months of anti-government protests only when responding to the same by demonstrators, but recommended improvements.
The Independent Police Complaint Council made 52 recommendations in its 999-page report examining police reaction to the protests. Police shot at protesters and used tear gas as violence escalated during the demonstrations last year.
The council noted that police fired live rounds on 12 occasions when faced "reasonable suspicion of lethal force" from activists.
"The protests of the last 10 months have metamorphasized from initial peaceful processions and public meetings to extreme forms of violent protests in the streets, resulting in the destruction of public and private property, disruption of our transport infrastructure, and serious injury (and in one case death) of many citizens holding different views to those of the protesters," Council Chair Anthony Neoh said in a statement.
"Under the violence they had to face in performance of their duty, the police had found it necessary to resort on occasions to the use of force. It is hoped that this study will enable a better understanding of the role of the police in the face of such violence and their accountability under the law."
Recommendations include a review of the police force's operational command structure, an increase in officer training and establishing clearer guidelines on the use of weapons during demonstrations.
The council said it lacked power to investigate an incident last July 21 when police arrived after activists were attacked by a mob carrying sticks and rods. Some suggested police worked with the unidentified white-dressed mob in the assault, which sent 45 people to the hospital.
The report said, however, that police had received enough information to know a confrontation was brewing and officers could have intervened with the help of lawmakers and rural leaders.
The protests were initially motivated by opposition to a potential new law that would have allowed mainland China to extradite criminals from Hong Kong. The proposal was ultimately withdrawn but the activists later turned their attention to other causes, like police brutality.