VIOLENT scuffles broke out in one of Hong Kong’s most famous and busiest shopping districts yesterday, as hundreds of supporters of Chinese rule stormed tents and ripped down banners belonging to pro-democracy protesters, forcing many to retreat.
As night fell and news of the confrontation spread, more protesters headed for the bustling district of Mong Kok, considered one of the most crowded places on Earth, to reinforce their lines.
Tens of thousands have taken to Hong Kong’s streets in the past week to demand full democracy, including a free voting system when they come to choose a new leader in 2017.
This morning hundreds of protestors remained despite the scuffles, which led to some protestors suffering cuts. “Of course I’m scared, but we have to stay and support everyone,” said Michael Yipu, 28, who works in a bank.
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying agreed to open talks with pro-democracy protesters but refused to stand down. He and his Chinese government backers made clear they would not back down in the face of the city’s worst unrest in decades.
Numbers dwindled at some protest sites in and around the Central financial district as rain fell yesterday and as people returned to work after a two-day holiday.
But in Mong Kok, where Triad criminal gangs operate bars, nightclubs and massage parlours in the high-rise apartment blocks packed together over neon lights and open-air markets, about 1,000 Beijing supporters clashed with about 100 protesters, spitting and throwing water bottles in a sideshow to the main protest movement.
Police formed a human chain to separate the two groups amid the wail of sirens.
Some demonstrators held umbrellas for police in the rain, while Beijing supporters shouted at officers for failing to clear the streets of demonstrators.
“We are all fed up and our lives are affected,” said teacher Victor Ma, 42. “You don’t hold Hong Kong citizens hostage because it’s not going to work. That’s why the crowd is very angry here.”
Benny Tai, a co-founder of the Occupy Central movement and a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, urged protesters to leave Mong Kok and regroup in Admiralty, the main protest site next to Central.
But more reinforcements were arriving as the three main protest groups threatened to call off any talks with the government unless police stopped the crowd violence against them.
Mong Kok is popular with visitors from the mainland but not as well-known to western tourists as the luxury shopping area of Causeway Bay, on the island of Hong Kong, where pedestrians were trying to remove protest barricades put up by Occupy protesters.
A female student protester wept on the street as she tried to protect the barricades.
“Is this really Hong Kong?” she asked. “Why has Hong Kong become like this?”
Mr Leung refused to bow to an ultimatum from protesters to resign.
Police have warned repeatedly of serious consequences if protesters try to block off or occupy government buildings in and around Central.
“The behaviour of these protesters is illegal, extremely unreasonable and inhumane, and is even worse than that of radical social activists and almost complete anarchy,” the Hong Kong government said, adding that people gathering in Mong Kok should leave.
Minutes before the protesters’ ultimatum for Mr Leung to resign expired at midnight on Thursday, he said chief secretary Carrie Lam would meet students soon to discuss a programme of reforms, but she failed to set out a timetable for any talks.