- South China Morning Post/ Nora Tam
Top bosses at Hong Kong’s rail operator has said the company is “experiencing the most tremendous challenges” in its 40-year history.
The civil unrest sweeping the city has turned MTR stations into flashpoints for clashes between police and protesters in recent weeks.
In an open letter to passengers on Sunday, the MTR Corporation’s chairman, Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen, and CEO Jacob Kam Chak-pui, condemned “all violence” and said they “deeply regret” the vandalism at stations. Their letter also praised the company’s staff.
“Facing this challenging situation, MTR colleagues have been making their best endeavour to recover and repair facilities in a timely manner to minimise the impacts on passengers,” the letter read. “We express our deepest gratitude to all colleagues who have spared no effort in their work and provided a safe railway service impartially.”
They stressed that the corporation was a “home grown Hong Kong public transport operator” and urged “all sectors of the community [to] treasure and safeguard this railway network, which has been carrying our collective memories over the past few decades”.
In an apparent appeal to the protesters, the letter read: “Please allow us to honour our commitment and continue to provide our fellow citizens with safe and reliable railway service.”
But, the appeal appeared to have fallen on deaf ears as more chaos descended on stations on Sunday, as protesters again vandalised stations after what had been largely a peaceful march in Central.
A group barricaded and set fires outside several entrances of Central station, while some also smashed up glass partitions, turnstiles, and television screens at Wan Chai station as they marched towards Causeway Bay, in what appeared to be an impromptu protest.
MTR Corp has become a target of attacks by anti-government protesters in recent months. At first, they vandalised the station facilities and removed equipment to block police from chasing them into the station.
Crowds also besieged stations and harassed staff, blaming them for allowing police to get into the stations to catch protesters.
- SCMP/Dickson Lee
The rail operator was granted a court injunction on August 23, that sought to restrain anyone from unlawfully and wilfully obstructing or interfering with the proper use and operation of the railway.
It also bans any action of damaging any station property, or behaving in a riotous or disorderly manner.
Any person who neglects to obey or comply with the injunction order may be held in contempt of court and may be jailed or fined. But the vandalism has not stopped.
On August 31, five of the rail lines were eventually forced to suspend services as multiple MTR stations along the Island, Tsuen Wan, and Kwun Tong lines were attacked.
Over the past week, Prince Edward station has become a key protest site. On August 31, police stormed the platform of the station and used pepper spray, made multiple arrests, and left several people injured after hitting them with their batons.
Protesters want the MTR Corp to make the surveillance camera tapes at the station public to “disclose the truth”.
Mote than 40 stations on the city’s 11 lines have been damaged during protests over past few weeks.
“The MTR management has been too weak in dealing with protesters,” said Luk Chung-hung, the deputy chairman of the Legislative Council subcommittee on railways.
“It has been granted an injunction, it should ask bailiffs to be sent to help stop protesters. Just issuing a letter condemning violence is far from enough.”
Luk, of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions, also called for better training and protective gear to be provided to frontline station staff.
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