Friday, October 17, 2014 11:49 pm
Pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong clashed violently with police Saturday as they reoccupied a protest camp mostly cleared the previous day, leading to multiple arrests and jeopardising government talks aimed at ending a political stalemate.
Police charged protesters using raised umbrellas for protection against pepper spray and batons on a busy main road in the bustling Mongkok district, but were forced into a partial retreat as the sun began to rise, to cheers from the crowd.
Activists rushed to rebuild makeshift barricades in an area police had opened to traffic 24 hours earlier, while thousands of others staged a sit-in at the protest camp that has existed for nearly three weeks, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
Hong Kong police said in a statement released early Saturday they had made 26 arrests in confrontations with a crowd that had swelled to 9,000 people by 3 am (1900 GMT), with 15 officers sustaining injuries in the commotion.
It was the third consecutive night that violence has broken out after a fortnight of comparative calm — a development that risks sinking only recently resurrected plans to hold talks between student leaders and the city’s Beijing-backed authorities.
The Asian financial hub has been rocked by demonstrations — some of which drew crowds of tens of thousands — calling for free elections and the resignation of the city’s leader Leung Chun-ying.
Protesters have held sit-ins at three major intersections causing significant disruption to a city usually known for its stability, and presenting Beijing with one of the most significant challenges to its authority since the 1989 Tiananmen protests.
China has insisted that Leung’s successor must be vetted by a loyalist committee before standing for election in 2017, a proposal protesters have dismissed as “fake democracy”.
Earlier in the day officers had significantly reduced the size of the northern Mongkok camp — the second largest after the main protest site opposite the government’s headquarters in central Hong Kong — in a swift dawn raid that saw no resistance from demonstrators.
Mongkok had previously seen clashes between protesters and masked government loyalists earlier in the month.
Throughout Friday demonstrators managed to hold on to one side of a multi-lane road where the camp had been located. Police then struggled to maintain order as crowds of pro-democracy supporters began to swell during the evening.
“We want to take back this spot because it’s what we had,” said Gary Yip, a 17-year-old high school student.
Violence broke out around 8 pm (1200 GMT) after several protesters tried to push through a police cordon.