Police in Hong Kong have arrested a number of pro-democracy demonstrators who refused to comply with a court order to clear a protest site in the city’s Mong Kok district, the scene of previous violent confrontations.
A total of 32 people were arrested, a police spokesman said yesterday, with 23 of those detained for contempt of court after police warned them not to interfere with workers and bailiffs enforcing a court order to remove obstructions from part of the protest area, one of three sites activists occupied.
Workers in hard hats and gloves, backed by bailiffs and police, spent most of the day clearing the 50-metre stretch of Argyle Street covered by the court order, which was granted to a minibus firm complaining its business had been affected.
Pro-democracy politician Leung Kwok-hung was among those taken to waiting police vans.
By evening, traffic was flowing again on the street for the first time in two months, but tensions rose as protesters scuffled on a side street with police trying to force them away from the area. Nine more people were arrested for assaulting officers, police said.
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The chaotic scenes underscored the challenge Hong Kong authorities face in trying to shut down the protest site in the gritty working-class district. It is home to a more unruly and aggressive crowd compared with the main protest site next to government headquarters where protesters put up little resistance last week to a court order to remove barricades.
Authorities are today expected to enforce a second restraining order covering the rest of the Mong Kok site granted to taxi drivers. “Tomorrow will be the main event,” said MP Albert Chan of the radical pro-democracy People Power party.
“There will be more people joining the resistance. Maybe there will be more arrests tomorrow.”
Protesters initially put up no resistance as workers started tearing down barricades and moving wooden pallets and other junk into the middle of an intersection to be taken away.
But as the authorities pushed down Argyle Street to remove tents and other debris, they faced defiance from protesters, who used delaying tactics such as asking for more time to pack up their belongings.
Activists have been camped out on major thoroughfares since 28 September demanding greater democracy in the semiautonomous city. The standoff has continued with no end in sight as neither the government nor student-led protesters have shown they will compromise.
“I’ll continue to fight for true democracy,” housewife Candy Chan, 50, a frequent Mong Kok visitor, said. “We’re fighting because we want the government to come out and respond to our demands.”
A small crowd applauded police from the sidelines. Businessman Andrew Tang said the protesters were not realistic in demanding Hong Kong’s government scrap Beijing’s requirement that a panel screen candidates for inaugural 2017 elections, adding they miscalculated by not withdrawing earlier.
“The Communist Party will never surrender,” he said, as he gave a thumbs-up to the police.
The clearances come at a critical phase for the protest movement, with student leaders running out of options, and public support, with the number of demonstrators dwindling.
More than 80 per cent of 513 people surveyed last week by Hong Kong University researchers said the protesters should go home. The poll had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
A survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong released days earlier found about two-thirds of 1,030 respondents felt the same way.
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