Hong Kong – Hong Kong protesters clashed with dozens of police using batons and pepper spray early Wednesday, in some of the worst violence since pro-democracy demonstrations began more than two weeks ago.
The confrontation broke out during a police operation to clear newly erected barricades on a main road next to the city’s embattled government headquarters.
A wall of police armed with shields and batons marched before dawn on crowds clutching the umbrellas that have become emblematic of their fight for full democracy.
Police used their fists and batons to beat back protesters who refused to retreat, aiming pepper spray in their faces in wild scenes.
Others were pulled to the ground, handcuffed and hauled away by officers, and there were injuries on both sides. Police said that 45 people had been arrested in the operation, including 37 men and eight women.
Within an hour police had regained control of Lung Wo Road, which sits just metres from the offices of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chin-Ying, ending a short-lived occupation that protesters staged the day before.
The violence was among the worst seen since the start of rallies that have drawn huge crowds calling for Beijing to grant the semi-autonomous city the right to hold free elections.
China has insisted it will vet candidates standing for election as the semi-autonomous city’s next leader in 2017 — a move protesters deride as “fake democracy”.
While the activists have been praised for their civility and organisational skills, they have also brought widespread disruption and traffic congestion to the financial hub, and tempers on all sides have begun to fray.
A police statement said officers had warned that “advancing against police cordon line even with their arms raised is not a peaceful act”, and had appealed to the demonstrators to “stay calm and restrained”.
The protests that have paralysed parts of the city over the last fortnight have largely been peaceful. But ugly scuffles have frequently broken out between demonstrators and government loyalists, sparking accusations the authorities are using hired thugs.
Patience is running short in some quarters, with shop owners and taxi drivers losing business and commuters voicing irritation at extensive disruptions on the roads and on public transport. – AFP