Hong Kong police moved in the early hours of Wednesday morning to clear pro-democracy protesters encamped on a major highway since late September, arresting two of the Occupy Central movement's most prominent student leaders and clearing away tents and barricades.
Clashes continued through the night as police deployed thousands of officers in riot gear to help enforce a court order brought by the transportation industry.
Lines of Occupy Central protesters wearing construction hats, goggles, masks and wielding umbrellas against helmeted riot police with shields and batons in the early hours of Wednesday on Shantung Street in Mong Kok.
Some threw trash and empty water bottles, as the crowd chanted angrily, lit up by constant camera flashes, while every scuffle was filmed by dozens of cameras, large and small.
Protesters, including Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) spokesman Lester Shum and Scholarism leader Joshua Wong, were carried away unresisting for continuing to obstruct a section of the busy Nathan Road shopping street following megaphone warnings that those who remained could be held in contempt of court.
"If you resist you face possible imprisonment," the police warned the crowds through a megaphone. "We warn you to immediately stop resisting," only to be met with jeers and slogans.
Police had earlier deployed tear-spray on crowds gathered in Argyle Street, forcing them to retreat, although many occupiers had already begun packing up tents and personal belongings when court officials arrived on Tuesday.
Police on Wednesday warned protesters against trying to re-establish barricades in areas already cleared.
"Police reiterate that if anyone blocks reopened roads or other roads, police are duty bound to take resolute actions to safeguard public order and public safety," the city's police department said in a statement.
Police arrested 148 people during the past two days of clearance operations in Mong Kok, a spokesman told reporters on Wednesday.
"[The arrests were] on suspicion of contempt of court, illegal assembly and similar charges," he said.
League of Social Democrats activist Raphael Wong was also detained at the same time as Shum and Joshua Wong. All three men were taken to cells in Kwai Chung police station, where they were charged with contempt of court and with obstructing official duty, according to the HKFS.
The three will be held until appearing in court for charges to be read on Thursday.
Before being arrested, Shum told reporters: "By standing here on this street, we risk being charged with contempt of court or obstructing a police officer."
"Nevertheless, we will stay here and stand with everyone until the last possible minute."
Level of force
A bystander surnamed Chan said he was shocked at the level of force used to clear the area.
"This was definitely not minimal force, so they lied about that," Chan told RFA after traffic began flowing freely down some previously blocked roads in the busy working class district of Mong Kok.
"I and my friends all thought that the police were abusing their power."
He said he was against the deployment of police to enforce a civil injunction. "[This] was unreasonable," Chan said.
Occupy Central protesters are still encamped on roads and intersections near government headquarters in Admiralty district and the Causeway Bay shopping district.
Some Mong Kok protesters said they would go and swell the ranks at the main "Umbrella Square" Admiralty site after the Mong Kok site was cleared.
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.
Meanwhile, there are signs of splits within the pro-democracy movement, with students acting independently of its three older founders and radical protesters calling for an escalation after talks with the government yielded no result last month.
Two months ago
Occupy Central began on 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 ballots 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."
Reported by Lin Jing and Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.