THOUSANDS of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong yesterday re-occupied some of the city streets that riot police had cleared them from earlier.
Police using pepper spray and batons battled with demonstrators. One protester was carried to a police van with blood pouring from his head moments after officers forced him to the ground.
In scenes repeated throughout Friday evening, police wielding batons knocked back umbrellas held by the crowd of young protesters to defend themselves from pepper spray.
Several protesters were knocked to the ground, and dozens were carried or led away by police.
The running clashes in Mong Kok’s dense grid of streets continued for hours. The government said some 9,000 people gathered at the scene, repeatedly charging police lines in an attempt to retake roads. Authorities said police arrested 26 people.
“The police have lost control. They are beating up protesters like we’re animals. We are angry. The students are our future,” said Tommy Lee, a 45-year-old technology worker who was outraged at seeing police handcuff four protesters who appeared to be high school students.
Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents Club issued a statement saying that police have threatened and intimidated journalists covering the protests.
Protesters are pressing for a greater say in choosing the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s leader in an inaugural direct election, promised for 2017.
Students and activists oppose Beijing’s ruling that a committee stacked with pro-Beijing puppets should screen candidates. That effectively means that Beijing can vet candidates before they go to a public vote.
The chaotic scenes unfolded hours after police had moved in to clear tents, canopies and barricades at Mong Kok, a smaller protest zone across Victoria Harbour from the main Central occupied area in the heart of the financial district.
Mong Kok’s protest zone had been home to a rowdier, more radical crowd less willing to follow student leaders, making it the most volatile of the three areas occupied since 28 September. The dawn operation – the third in recent days by police to retake streets from protesters – came after Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying sought to defuse the bitter standoff with protesters on Thursday by reviving an offer of talks over democratic reforms.
However, Leung warned police wouldn’t refrain from clearing protest sites while holding talks. The latest clashes were likely to make it harder to resolve the crisis with protesters, already angered by a video of a group of officers kicking a handcuffed activist. There was widespread outrage over the video and seven officers have been suspended.
Yesterday’s clashes saw the protesters managing to retake streets south of a major intersection. The unprecedented mass protests were triggered three weeks ago when students at a rally stormed a fenced-off courtyard outside government headquarters.
Vast differences over reforms divide the students and the government. Key roads remain closed. Some protesters are digging in for the long haul at the main occupation zone, while others fight to retake ground lost to police.
Against this backdrop, Leung’s offer to negotiate with students appears unlikely to resolve the largest uprising since the former British colony returned to Chinese control 17 years ago.