The Guardian view on violence in Hong Kong: an attack on the idea of democracy

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Criminals may have launched the bloody assaults on rail passengers, but the incident is more likely to inflame than quell the anger at authorities

We are very unlikely to find out who arranged for thugs to rampage through a Hong Kong train station, armed with wooden sticks and metal rods, hospitalising 45 peaceful passengers. Yet if their approach was indiscriminate, their target was clear – protesters returning from an anti-government march – and their purpose equally plain: intimidation.

A pro-Beijing legislator was seen shaking the hands of the white-clad thugs at Yuen Long and has portrayed the men as local residents “defending their homes”. Carrie Lam, the region’s chief executive, condemned Sunday night’s violence – but spent more time criticising protesters who had surrounded Beijing’s liaison office and defaced its sign. Many in the protest movement disagree with such tactics. But political attacks on property can hardly be compared to a vicious assault that broke bones and left one man in critical condition.

Ms Lam and Hong Kong’s police chief have angrily denied allegations of collusion, with the chief executive calling them insulting. If Hong Kong police are to retain any credibility whatsoever, they must pursue Sunday’s attackers every bit as assiduously as they have pro-democracy activists, while the government must launch fully independent investigations of both the policing of demonstrations and the tardy response to the Yuen Long attacks, as protesters have demanded. Don’t hold your breath.

But a refusal by authorities to take this chilling attack seriously will guarantee that mistrust and antagonism continues to spiral. (Some worry that the assaults were intended to goad protesters into violence themselves.) While some will no doubt heed the thugs and stay away from future demonstrations, others appear more determined than ever to take to the streets. There are already calls for a rally at Yuen Long. And the protests, now in their seventh week, will burn on instead of burning out.