PRO-DEMOCRACY protesters clashed again with police yesterday as they tried to surround Hong Kong’s government headquarters in a bid to to revitalise their flagging movement for democratic reforms.
Protesters carrying umbrellas – which have become symbols of the pro-democracy movement – battled police armed with pepper spray, batons and riot shields.
Student leaders told a big crowd at the main protest site outside government headquarters that they would escalate their campaign, which has been running since late September.
Hundreds of protesters pushed past police lines on the other side of the complex from the protest site.
They blocked traffic on a main road, but were stopped by police barricades from going down a side road to the office of the territory’s chief executive Leung Chun-Ying.
The protesters, many wearing surgical masks, hard hats and safety goggles while chanting, “I want true democracy”, said that they wanted to occupy the road to prevent Mr Leung and other government officials from getting to work in the morning.
At one point, police charged the crowd, aggressively pushing demonstrators back with pepper spray and batons, after some protesters started pelting them with water bottles and other objects.
Police later fell back, letting demonstrators re-occupy the road. At dawn yesterday, police charged again and cleared the protesters from some areas around the government headquarters.
Police Senior Superintendent Tsui Wai-hung said 40 protesters had been arrested, adding that authorities would not let the road, a major thoroughfare, remain blocked.
“We will open up this road,” Mr Tsui said.
A government statement said 11 police officers had been injured.
The statement read: “The government spokesman reiterated that society would not accept the illegal acts of violent radicals who repeatedly pushed police officers and charged their cordon lines during scuffles.”
Protesters said they were taking action to force a response from Hong Kong’s government, which has made little effort to address their demands.
The protesters want a plan to use a Beijing-friendly panel to screen candidates for Hong Kong’s leader in inaugural 2017 elections to be scrapped. The government statement compared attempts to ignore the Beijing-dictated plan to “building castles in the air” and said that it “would only delay the constitutional and democratic development of Hong Kong”.
Hundreds of protesters remain entrenched in the main downtown protest site, building tents, work tables and other infrastructure, even as energy has diminished on the streets since the first surge of demonstrations two months ago.
Numbers typically dwindle in the daytime, with many protesters going to work or school before returning in the evenings.
Authorities last week carried out an aggressive operation to clear the protest camp on the busy streets of Hong Kong’s crowded Mong Kok district, one of three protest zones around the semi-autonomous city.
“The action was aimed at paralysing the government’s operation,” said Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. “The government has been stalling – and we believe we need to focus pressure on the government headquarters, the symbol of the government’s power.”
The federation is one of two student groups that have played important roles in organising the protest movement in the former British colony.
Protester Ernie Kwok, 21, a maintenance worker and part-time student, said: “I really want to have real elections for Hong Kong because I don’t want the Chinese government to control us, our minds, anything.”