Police in Hong Kong have arrested six men in connection with brutal attacks on protesters and members of the public at a train station in the New Territories near the Chinese border on Sunday night.

Some of the six suspects, aged from 24 to 54, have triad backgrounds, including the 14K and Wo Shing Wo gangs. Police said all of the men live in Yuen Long or Tin Shui Wai and were involved in the attacks.

They have been detained for investigation. Police also seized rattan canes during the operation and said further arrests would be made.

Weeks of marches, and sporadic clashes, have left Beijing’s authority in the city of seven million facing its most serious test since Britain handed it back to China in 1997 under a deal that allowed Hong Kongers to keep liberties including an independent judiciary and freedom of speech.

The initial demonstrations were sparked by a now-suspended bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but they have evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reform and a halt to sliding freedoms in the territory.

Wild melee

The protests moved into an ugly phase last weekend when more than 100 armed men launched a nasty attack on pro-democracy protesters in Yuen Long MTR station. More than 40 people were injured, five of them seriously.

Many videos surfaced on social media showing wild melees when suspected gangsters armed with wood and steel poles, plus rattan canes attacked passengers, civilians and reporters.

But there were no police to be seen during the half-an-hour melee when the mobs attacked the protesters and vulnerable civilians.

The police were heavily criticized for taking more than an hour to reach the station despite frantic calls from those under attack, and then failing to arrest the armed assailants – who were seen in a village near the station.

Footage posted by media outlets showed men wearing face masks and white shirts brandishing what appeared to be metals rods, while riot police stood nearby. But no arrests were made at the time.

On Monday, Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung defended the delay, saying some officers from the district had to help deal with protesters on Hong Kong Island. He said police were also called to three fights and a fire in the Yuen Long area around the same time, which added to the delay.

However, the police website reveals that as of April 30 last year there are more than 29,200 staff in the force.

Video stirs outrage

Meanwhile, a video showing pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, which alleges that Ho may have been behind the attack at the MTR station, has provoked outrage in Hong Kong.

Ho, who organized a rally to support the government and police, was seen giving a thumbs up to men in white and shaking hands with some of them on a Yuen Long street on Sunday.

The video, which went viral on social media, showed men in white praising Ho and lauding him as a hero.

Citizens later claimed that men in the video were involved in the brutal attack at Yuen Long Station.

In a media briefing on Monday, Ho denied any connection to the alleged gangsters who attacked people, saying he knew some of the men in white but only happened to run into them after dinner. He claimed he only learned about the violence after returning home, saying he gave a thumbs-up to the men for their spirit in “defending their home and people”.

Ho said the violence stemmed from people calling online for Yuen Long to be “rehabilitated”, which made local residents anxious and resulted in the white-shirt action. He blamed democrat lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who was beaten by the gang, for bringing “black-shirt thugs” to the area to protest and triggering the violence.

But he said in an online video last week that “the more (protesters) they come, the more (we) beat them up”.

Ho’s hardline stance spurred more than 100 people to storm the MP’s office in Tsuen Wan in the afternoon. Protesters chanted “shame on Junius Ho,” before breaking glass walls, throwing eggs, scattered documents from his office onto the ground, and drawing on the wall.

Junius Ho’s office in Tsuen Wan. Photo: RTHK

Meanwhile, a list of groups and associations distanced themselves from Ho. The Law Society of Hong Kong, which once had Ho as its president, said they would look into complaints about Ho’s apparent support for the attackers, as the association had received “quite a number of complaints”.

A group of people affiliated with the horse racing industry also launched a petition, calling for the Jockey Club to cancel Ho’s membership. And thousands of students, teachers and alumni at Ho’s old school, Queen’s College, signed a petition calling on the Legislative Council to impeach him.