Hong Kong police on Monday warned against escalating violence in months-long anti-government protests following the arrest of 80 people in demonstrations over the weekend.
Protesters wreaked havoc in the districts of Tuen Mun, Yuen Long, Sha Tin and Tseung Kwan O in the New Territories as well as Mong Kok in the Kowloon Peninsula on Saturday and Sunday.
Bricks and petrol bombs were thrown at riot police, and in Tuen Mun on Saturday a protester tried to steal a police officer's revolver.
"No excuses, no propaganda can justify or glorify such acts of violence," police spokesman Tse Chun-chung said at a news briefing. "We appeal to every member of the public to cut ties with all criminal elements and join us in condemning such violent acts."
Tse, as well as the police officers' union, condemned the attempted snatching of the officer's pistol.
"We are hereby giving our strongest warning: anyone who attempts to rob police pistol or equipment, officers will definitely use relevant force to stop it. The perpetrator will bear all responsibilities," Tse said.
The police also denied having kicked a protester after taking him into a back alley in Yuen Long on Saturday night.
"The video (purportedly showing the kicking) is very out of focus, and it could have been an object, a person a bag or a vest," Superintendent Vasco Williams said in the briefing.
The 80 arrested were accused of a range of crimes including unlawful assembly, possession of weapons, assaulting police, disorderly conduct, dangerous driving and desecrating the Chinese national flag.
Chinese flags have been targeted by protesters angered by China's perceived meddling in the territory's affairs. When the former British colony was returned to China in 1997, it was promised semi-autonomy from Beijing's rule.
Nine incidents involving the desecration of Chinese flags are being investigated, including two flags that were desecrated by protesters during the weekend. Police said at least five people have been arrested for such acts since June, when the protests began, triggered by an extradition bill that has since been withdrawn.
China's state-run Xinhua News Agency in an editorial piece Monday called those who defaced the Chinese flag "rioters" and urged Hong Kong people to "make the right choice, stridently defend the national flag."
The editorial said insulting the flag is tantamount to insulting the country and the nation, and a blasphemy to all Chinese people including Hong Kong's compatriots.
Under Hong Kong law, desecrating the Chinese flag carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison, police said.
The 80 arrested over the weekend bring the total arrests since June to 1,556 people, aged 12 to 83, with dozens of them having been charged with rioting.
The protests, triggered by the government-proposed extradition bill, have since widened from demanding the withdrawal of the bill to calling for an independent probe into alleged police brutality, pardons for arrested protesters and democratic reform.