Hong Kong in bitter mourning for Manila bus killer's victims

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The Independent Online

Grief and anger at the killing of eight Hong Kong tourists in a bus siege in Manila spilled over yesterday at a march where demonstrators condemned the Philippines authorities for bungling the rescue operation.

An estimated 80,000 people attended the protest in Hong Kong, which began with a short ceremony in a city park to honour the dead. After observing three minutes' silence, the demonstrators – many of whom wore yellow ribbons and carried white flowers, the traditional Chinese colour of mourning – marched to the central financial district.

The tourists were killed in the final stages of a 12-hour hostage ordeal a week ago, when poorly trained and equipped police stormed a bus hijacked by a former officer, Rolando Mendoza. The bloody conclusion to the crisis, which was broadcast live on television, horrified the victims' compatriots in the wealthy Chinese territory.

Police have admitted they made serious tactical errors throughout the stand-off with Mendoza, who was buried on Saturday in his home town of Tanauan, south of Manila. Around 1,000 mourners were reported to have attended the funeral Mass, where his many police medals were displayed, along with floral wreaths sent by former colleagues.

Once cited as one of the Philippines' 10 outstanding officers, Mendoza, 55, had been dismissed following allegations of extortion and robbery. He commandeered the bus in an effort to pressure the authorities into giving him his job back, but was killed by a police sniper during the chaotic rescue operation.

The eight victims were among 15 people held captive on the bus after Mendoza released other passengers, mainly children and the elderly, earlier in the day. Police attempting to negotiate with him turned down an offer of an elite military unit trained by US special forces to handle hijackings and hostage situations, it has emerged.

The head of Manila police has since taken leave and five of his officers have been suspended, but feelings in Hong Kong continue to run high.

At yesterday's march, one of the territory's politicians, Cheung Man-kwong, said: "That 80,000 people can show up in such a short period of time – it shows the anger and unity of the Hong Kong people."

One demonstrator, Andy Wong, demanded justice for the dead, saying: "Everyone saw how the Philippines government mishandled the situation." Another, Daisy Kwong, told Agence France-Presse: "Hong Kong people hope that, at the very least, the Philippines authorities could tell us the truth [about what went wrong]."

With an investigation under way, a Philippines presidential spokesman, Herminio Coloma, promised at the weekend that the results would be presented to the Hong Kong authorities soon. "We are doing everything to ensure that we have comprehensive, thorough and accurate findings," he said in a radio interview.

More than 100,000 Philippines nationals work in Hong Kong, many as maids, and many have said they fear a backlash by angry locals.

Yesterday, in a gesture of solidarity, members of the Philippines community in Hong Kong held their own inter-faith service in memory of the victims, lighting eight candles – one for each of the dead. One domestic worker, Elma Oliva, said the purpose of the service was "to send our sympathy and condolences".

At Mendoza's funeral, friends and neighbours defended his reputation. A family friend, Francisco Misaba, said: "Just about everyone in the district was his friend."