Above: Hong Kong bike carrying a political message.
Raw footage: In Hong Kong Police struggled to contain thousands of protesters returning to the Mong Kok protest site which was dismantled earlier on Friday. Video: The WSJ’s Thomas Di Fonzo Photo: EPA
Violent clashes in Mong Kok cast doubt on government’s plans to break Occupy impasse
Riot police back in action as clearance of Mong Kok barriers riles crowd; government seeks a bridge from Beijing’s ruling to students’ demands
Violent clashes between demonstrators and riot police erupted in Mong Kok last night, casting doubt over what the government said were fresh moves to start talks with students in a bid to end a seemingly intractable impasse over electoral reform that has sparked almost three weeks of unprecedented street protests.
Just hours after police moved in to clear the Mong Kong Kok Occupy site, more than a thousand protesters poured back into the district, clashing with police. Fresh trouble broke out near the government headquarters in Lung Wo Road in Admiralty.
By the early hours of this morning, a section of Nathan Road in Mong Kok was occupied by protesters as police moved to stop them blocking the junction with Argyle Street again.
Riot police used pepper spray and batons in a bid to drive back the protesters and the clashes led to a number of arrests. Among them was award-winning international photo-journalist Paula Bronstein, who was detained after jumping onto a car to take pictures. Her arrest was later condemned by the Foreign Correspondents Club, which issued a statement accusing the police of “intimidating” journalists.
Yan Chan, who was in the front row when the clash broke out, said police’s handling was inappropriate. “They started using pepper spray very quickly,” said the 24-year-old. “There was no fighting back by the protesters at all.”
The police’s Public Relations Bureau estimated there were 9,000 protesters in the streets of Mong Kok at around 2am, though they did not say if this was at the peak of the protests. This is the first time since the civil disobedience movement kicked off that police have given crowd estimates.
In Admiralty, tensions momentarily flared after midnight when a group of protesters tried to repeatedly move in on the tunnel on Lung Wo Road.
Dozens of demonstrators, led by about three male Occupy supporters, tried to block traffic on both lanes of the road at around 12.15am. When police brought out their batons, the protesters quickly left, but returned again minutes later, prompting fresh scuffles. It was during this time that two people, reportedly minors according to protesters, were arrested.
The arrests further riled up the crowd, with protesting shouting at police for taking away “innocent people”. Protesters once again blocked traffic on one of two eastbound lanes on Lung Wo, but officers were able to contain the crowds.
More than 50 officers – with batons, riot shields and police dogs – wielded their weapons to intimidate the protesters. No pepper spray was used. The stand-off lasted for more than two hours.
The trouble flared after officials said earlier in the day they were looking for a way to secure a meeting between Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-Ngor and representatives of the Federation of Students – which has been tentatively set for Tuesday at the Academy of Medicine in Aberdeen.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has insisted dialogue be based on the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s decision on the 2017 chief executive election that ruled out public nomination – which is central to the students’ demands.
A source said yesterday the government was looking for ways to address the demands of students while maintaining the integrity of the NPC decision.
The students’ federation called on the government to start the talks by Wednesday and said the action in Mong Kok should not be allowed to derail them.
“Leung Chun-ying is trying to stir up trouble and stop the dialogue, and we will not be caught in the trap,” federation secretary general Alex Chow Yong-kang said.
The Occupy Central movement issued a statement at 1am, condemning the administration for launching clearance operations, but it also called on both sides to show restraint.
The students’ federation has called for the government to submit a supplementary report to Beijing on the result of the talks, but this has been rejected by top officials.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said on Thursday there was no provision for a supplementary report under the five-step procedure for changing the city’s electoral methods laid down by the Standing Committee. But Professor Ray Yep Kin-man, of City University’s department of public policy, said the government could submit reports on the latest situation in Hong Kong at any time to the central government.
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