HONG KONG (AFP) – Teeming Hong Kong observed a mournful silence Thursday for eight tourists killed in a Manila bloodbath, after their bodies returned home amid mounting outrage against Philippine authorities.
The southern Chinese territory held three minutes of silence with government work suspended and flags lowered to half-mast at a special ceremony overseen by Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang on the city's harbor waterfront.
Emotions are running high in Hong Kong over blunders by Philippine police in the chaotic climax to a day-long bus siege Monday, when a disgraced former policeman held a group of Hong Kong tourists hostage for 12 hours.
The bodies of the eight tourists killed at the end of the siege – including three members of one family – were flown back to Hong Kong Wednesday night, with bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace” at a poignant airport ceremony.
An elderly woman wept as she laid her hands on the coffin of the 31-year-old Hong Kong tour guide who was praised for alerting his travel agency to the crisis. Other sobbing relatives laid wreaths on victims' coffins.
Echoing calls by China's central government in Beijing, high-ranking Hong Kong official Henry Tang demanded that Manila “conduct a comprehensive, thorough and impartial investigation”.
“We have been overwhelmed with grief by the events of the past three days,” Tang, the Hong Kong government's chief secretary, told reporters at the airport.
“The truth would be the best consolation for victims and their families.”
Chek Lap Kok airport, one of Asia's busiest, took part in the three minutes’ silence Thursday with tannoy announcements just before 8 a.m. (0000 GMT) urging passengers and staff to pay their respects.
Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay and Foreign Minister Alberto Romulo were to head to Beijing Thursday to brief the Chinese government about the hijack crisis, China's Xinhua news agency said.
The Philippine government declinedto confirm the report, which said the delegation would go on to Hong Kong Friday to brief the territory's leaders, and meet victims' families and members of the Filipino community.
There are as many as 200,000 Filipinos living in Hong Kong, the vast majority of them working as maids, and union leaders have reported reprisals against the community by Hong Kong employers incensed at the hostage drama.
The tragedy unfolded live on television, allowing viewers around the world to watch as ill-prepared Philippine police commandos failed in attempts to storm the bus before the tourists, and the gunman, died in a hail of bullets.
Philippine authorities have suspended four police officers as an investigation proceeds into key mistakes that officials have identified from the protracted standoff.
According to reports in Hong Kong, the Philippines has ignored requests for a joint investigation. But Hong Kong Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee demanded that Manila report back its findings without delay.
“There's no way that we can participate in the investigation of the event,” he said.
“But we will urge the Philippine authorities to conduct a thorough, just and transparent investigation and we want the report to be ready as soon as possible.”
The Hong Kong victims were aged from 14 to 58. Amy Ng, a survivor who lost her husband Ken Leung and two daughters in the shootout, has stayed behind in Manila as her 18-year-old son fights for his life in intensive care.
Autopsies on five of the victims showed they died from gunshots mostly in the head and neck.
But Philippine officials said further investigations were required to determine if the victims had been shot by the hostage-taker or by police.