Hostage saga: Fury in Hong Kong

2010-08-24 11:43

Hong Kong - The Philippines received harsh criticism from Hong Kong as the territory plunged into mourning for the eight tourists who died in the Manila bus siege, with flags at half-mast and share traders holding a minute's silence.

One Hong Kong survivor of Monday's day-long bus siege in the Philippine capital said her husband and two daughters were killed in a hail of bullets as the crisis reached a dramatic climax live on television.

Her son was in intensive care in hospital, said the survivor, identifying herself only as Mrs Leung.

"The Philippine government.... I can't accept this. Why did they do this to us?" she told Hong Kong officials flown to the Manila hospital in comments shown on Cable News TV.

"(The gunman) did not want to kill us. He only shot us after the negotiations failed," she said, sobbing.

‘Black’ travel alert

The Hong Kong government raised a "black" travel alert for the Philippines, urging against all travel to one of south-east Asia's most popular tourist spots.

Tour groups said they were cancelling all organised visits.

The government organised two chartered flights by Hong Kong's flag carrier Cathay Pacific to take relatives of the hostages, as well as psychologists, doctors and social workers, to Manila.

Flags on government buildings flew at half-mast as a mark of respect for the victims, who were part of a Hong Kong tour group, and the normally hectic stock exchange paused in silence at the start of Tuesday's trading.

Lurid photographs of the bloodbath dominated the front pages of the Hong Kong press, with a few Chinese-language newspapers changing their mast-head colour from red to black in mourning.

Missed opportunities

Editorials echoed the southern Chinese territory's leader in querying the response of Philippine authorities.

"The way it is handled, particularly the outcome, is very disappointing," Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang told reporters late on Monday.

Newspapers bemoaned missed opportunities to end the siege much earlier, including when the gunman, a disgraced former senior police inspector, had waved from the bus door.

"A large group of police failed to get into the bus after surrounding the vehicle for nearly half an hour," the Hong Kong Economic Journal said.

"Their appalling professional standards, and the lack of strategic planning, made observers both angry and sad. This tragedy could have been avoided," it said.

Also noting the length of time it took Manila police commandos to intervene, the Apple Daily said: "It makes people question the competence of the police."

‘What went wrong?’

The Standard said Philippine authorities must be held to account.

"What went so terribly wrong?" the English-language daily said.

"What did the gunman tell police during the negotiations? What was the response from the police? The Hong Kong government must also demand that Manila provide answers for the many questions."

But while Manila police defended their actions, the Hong Kong leader complained that he had been unable all Monday to reach Philippine President Benigno Aquino, and urged authorities to give a full account of the crisis.

The Chinese embassy in Manila on Tuesday "urged the Philippine side to take concrete measures to ensure the safety and security of the Chinese citizens in the Philippines".

The Hong Kong tourists were killed when police stormed a bus that had been commandeered 12 hours earlier by the ex-police officer demanding his job back.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi telephoned his Philippine counterpart to express Beijing's shock and demand a thorough investigation, the official Xinhua news agency said.