Student organizers of Hong Kong's Occupy movement on Saturday vowed to continue mass sit-ins in downtown areas unless their demands for universal suffrage are met, in spite of ongoing clashes with opponents of the week long mass pro-democracy demonstrations.
Anti-Occupy protesters tried to snatch away makeshift barricades blocking traffic and continued to face off with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of pro-democracy protesters in the busy Kowloon shopping district of Mong Kok.
Protesters remained in occupation of 2.8 kilometers (1.7 miles) of major highways in Hong Kong island's Central district, adjacent Admiralty, and a shopping street in Causeway Bay, as well as continuing to block a busy intersection in Mong Kok, traffic police said.
Transport officials said that 225 bus routes have been affected by the protests, nearly 45 percent of all bus services throughout Hong Kong.
A large crowd of several hundred gathered in Causeway Bay amid further altercations between protesters and those who oppose them, local media reported.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) and the academic activism group Scholarism appeared to have dropped their demand for Leung's resignation after he flatly refused to step down, instead agreeing to talks with his second-in-command on Friday.
The meeting with chief secretary Carrie Lam was later canceled by Occupy organizers in protest over the police response to attacks on pro-democracy protesters occupying Mong Kok.
Leung, meanwhile, said protesters should end their blockade of central government headquarters, as well as roads on Hong Kong island, by Monday, so government and schools can resume normal operations.
He warned protests are "very likely to keep going out of hand" if clashes between opposing protesters continued.
HKFS head Alex Chow said students still planned to support ongoing protests in Mong Kok, Admiralty and the shopping district of Causeway Bay, in spite of calls from Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai for protesters to leave Mong Kok on Friday night.
Chow and Scholarism leader Joshua Wong strongly condemned anti-Occupy supporters for resorting to violence in Mong Kok, and have repeatedly accused the government of allowing it to happen.
Hong Kong lawmakers on Saturday held a press conference in which they also hit out at the government and police for failing to prevent "mob violence."
Legislators from the pan-democratic camp of parties accused the government of allowing Hong Kong's organized crime groups, or triads, to attack demonstrators, while police did little to stop the initial violence.
Of 20 people arrested in Mong Kok late on Friday, at least eight are suspected to have triad backgrounds, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
Local media showed photos of bloodied protesters following the clashes, which follow a week of mass pro-democracy sit-ins in the former British colony.
"Hong Kong is like in Cultural Revolution in 1967, [but] now," Frederick Fung, leader of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, told reporters in a reference to communist-led riots under British colonial rule.
"The Hong Kong government is pushing Hong Kong onto the road of Cultural Revolution," Fung said, in comments reported by the South China Morning Post.
Legislators dismissed police claims that it took an hour to send reinforcements to Mong Kok, using the city's super-efficient Mass Transit Rail (MTR) subway system.
They said some of the attackers were taken away by police in taxis, but weren't placed under arrest.
The government rejected the allegations, saying it was unable to deploy tear-gas against anti-Occupy protesters who attacked students because the streets were "too narrow."
Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said the police had handled both camps of protesters fairly.
"We do not approve of any of this violence," Lai told reporters. "Hong Kong is a lawful society...Nobody wishes to see what happened yesterday," he said.
He said the police had "faithfully, truthfully enforced the law, with patience."
Civic Party leader Alan Leong said one anti-occupation group has threatened to keep up the attacks on the Occupy movement.
Meanwhile, two public broadcaster RTHK journalists were attacked on Saturday—one by police—as they were covering the clashes, which continued sporadically as crowds slowly began to gather at other occupation sites once more.
Video journalist Mak Ka-wai was hit in the eye by an assailant, who was arrested by police in Mong Kok around noon.
Earlier, an RTHK journalist said he was hit by a police baton during scuffles in Admiralty in spite of wearing a high-visibility waistcoat with "Reporter" printed on it, and clear identification.
"This isn't the first time RTHK journalists have been treated violently by police in the course of carrying out reporting duties," the RTHK union said in a statement on Saturday.
"The union demands that the police exercise restraint and respect the rights of reporters on the front line," it said.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club said it had also received reports of foreign journalists being "either assaulted or intimidated" while covering the Occupy movement.
It said it had received reports from both men and women, staff reporters and freelancers, and even student journalists.
"A foreign journalist was struck on the face by a full water bottle thrown by an anti-Occupy protester, and the journalist has video of the event," the FCC said in a statement on its website.
"A woman reporter was struck on the arm, and some others have been threatened with sexual assault," it said.
It said no arrests had been reported in connection with any of the incidents. "In one case police were observed leading an alleged assailant to a taxi instead of making an arrest," the statement said.
"The Foreign Correspondents' Club, Hong Kong, is deeply disturbed by these reports, especially those ascribed directly to police officers, or where police could have intervened but do not appear to have done so," it said.
Hundreds of Occupy protesters continued to gather at a busy intersection in Mong Kok, a densely populated district of bars, pawn shops and malls portrayed in popular culture as a hotbed of triad activity.
Only a handful of police in regular uniform were visible at the scene, live video from the Apple Daily media group showed, while local media reports showed shouting matches between the two sides in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.
The clashes came after massive crowds--many of them students and young people--occupied several major highways and busy intersections in downtown shopping and business districts of Hong Kong for six consecutive days, calling for the right to nominate candidates in 2017 elections for the territory's chief executive.
The protests, dubbed the "Umbrella Revolution," swelled with regular citizens angry at police use of tear gas and pepper spray on mostly student demonstrators on Sunday. Police have since maintained a much more low-key presence at the protests.
A student protester who gave only his English name Jonathan said he was shocked at the apparent involvement of triad members in the clashes.
He said clashes had also taken place in Causeway Bay late on Friday.
"They came without warning, and there was a lot of pushing and shoving," Jonathan said. "They didn't pay attention to the safety of volunteers. They were trying to away the traffic barriers."
"We are using peaceful, rational, non-violent means to pursue our demands, and that's why they had to use violence," he said.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has yet to make any direct statement on the Occupy movement, while keeping up a barrage of criticism of the protests via official media.
Rule of law
The party's own People's Daily newspaper said the continuing protests had damaged the rule of law in Hong Kong, which was promised a "high degree of autonomy" under the terms of its 1997 handover to Beijing.
"Traffic has been obstructed in the city center and businesses and schools have closed," the paper said in an editorial on Saturday.
"The situation is very worrying."
It said Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp looked to the United States as a model of democracy.
"In fact, candidates are selected in America by the Republican or the Democratic parties, and voters only have a limited choice," the paper said.
It said the British colonial regime had done little to develop democracy in Hong Kong during 150 years of its rule in the territory.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.