Updated at 5:50 p.m. EST on 2014-11-25
Riot police in Hong Kong used tear-gas and pepper spray to disperse hundreds of pro-democracy protesters on Tuesday as they stepped in to assist court officials in clearing a section of highway in the busy Kowloon district of Mong Kok.
Protesters wearing construction helmets and masks formed a shield-wall of umbrellas against police, in what has become the icon of the Occupy Central movement, which is calling for more democracy than Beijing has said it will allow in the semiautonomous Chinese city.
Thousands of police were deployed to the scene, while a police spokesman said officers had arrested more than 80 protesters.
Police shouted warnings by megaphone: "You must stop causing an obstruction or impeding the bailiffs and those assisting them."
"This will be the last warning issued by police, who will use the minimum amount of force, if necessary," it said.
Other warnings said that any who continued to block the streets being cleared under a High Court order would be arrested "on suspicion of contempt of court."
Three police officers were injured in the clashes, while many protesters were hit by tear-gas sprayed from high pressure hoses from step-ladders, a police statement said late on Tuesday.
Earlier, workers had dismantled wooden barricades from the street, while protesters responded by peacefully packing up their tents and belongings.
'Things got chaotic'
An eyewitness surnamed Lam who said he has been to the Mong Kok camp daily since the first day of protests, said it was only later that the mood became more tense.
"When the police came, the protesters got up and left peacefully; the young people behaved in a very orderly manner," Lam said.
"[Then] things got pretty chaotic," Lam said. "The police treated protesters very roughly and rudely. They were very unfriendly."
As the operation proceeded, Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) leader Yvonne Leung questioned court officials over whether police were enforcing the clearance of streets beyond the area covered by the injunction, brought by a bus company that said the blockages were hurting its bottom line.
However, the majority of protesters shouted slogans, but made no attempt to resist arrest, and several were taken away in one of dozens of police vans parked in nearby streets, local media reports said.
Photos of the stand-off posted on Twitter showed a number of uniformed high-school students in helmets and masks, at the center of the crowd.
Argyle Street near the busy shopping drag of Nathan Road was cleared of occupiers and their tents, although several hundred protesters continued to gather in nearby Portland Street, online live video feed by the Apple Daily media group showed.
Reports said that skirmishes between protesters and police in Mong Kok continued well into the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Likely to stay
Embattled Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who has faced repeated calls from protesters for his resignation, said activists who remained encamped on sections of Nathan Road which looks set to be cleared later this week, should go home.
Lam said he believed many protesters would remain at the site nonetheless.
"Young people are unhappy with the current government," he said. "We want to fight for freedom, justice and an equitable society."
"I have been here for 59 days, and I have seen everything that has happened in Mong Kok," said Lam, who is retired.
"I'm a bit older, so I don't take part; but I come every day to see what's going on."
Police spokesman Kong Man-keung said police lines blocking Argyle Street, the focus of the court injunction, should be respected.
"We appeal to those who are illegally assembled there to exercise restraint, and not to try charging the police lines," Kong told reporters.
A second Occupy protester at Mong Kok surnamed Soong said protesters are still concerned that existing encampments in Mong Kok will be targeted next.
"But if we leave, then Hong Kong will have no future," Soong said. "So I will be staying. Because if the chief executive isn't elected by us, then they can do exactly as they please."
"We have a duty to protect Hong Kong," he said.
Meanwhile, some protesters said they were already planning to move their tents and belongings to the main Occupy site near government headquarters in Admiralty, on Hong Kong Island.
Two months of protests
The gritty working class district of Mong Kok has seen sporadic clashes and mob violence since the Occupy movement was launched on Sept. 28, often between anti-Occupy protesters accused of criminal gang connections and the occupiers, many of whom are students.
Occupy Central protesters have been encamped on three major roads and intersections in Hong Kong since Sept. 28, when police use of tear-gas and pepper spray against umbrella-wielding protesters brought hundreds of thousands of citizens onto the streets at the movement's height.
But Hong Kong officials have repeatedly told the protesters to leave, saying that Beijing won't withdraw an Aug. 31 decision ruling out public nomination of candidates in the 2017 election for the chief executive.
China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), said that while Hong Kong's five million voters will cast a ballot to elect the next chief executive, they may only choose between two or three candidates approved by a pro-Beijing committee.
Protesters and pan-democratic politicians, who currently only have around seven percent of the nominating committee vote compared with 56 percent of the popular vote in the last legislative election, have dismissed the proposed electoral reforms as "fake universal suffrage."
Hong Kong activists are also angry at the British government for failing to stand up to Beijing over what they say are breaches of a 1984 treaty setting out the terms of the handover.
On Tuesday, a group of British MPs canceled a planned visit to Shanghai after one of their number was denied a visa after organizing a parliamentary debate on Occupy Central, the Guardian newspaper reported.
Conservative MP Richard Graham had called for a probe into possible breaches by Beijing of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration promising the territory a high degree of autonomy.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.