Protesters Retake Hong Kong Street After Police Warnings

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Pro-democracy protesters and bystanders gather at an intersection in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Oct. 18, 2014.
Pro-democracy protesters and bystanders gather at an intersection in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Oct. 18, 2014.

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong surged back onto the city's streets early Saturday local time, rebuilding barricades torn down by police in a raid a day earlier, while police in riot gear used batons and pepper spray in a bid to control a growing crowd.

Thousands gathered, wielding the now-familiar umbrellas as a defense against pepper spray, on Argyle Street in the busy Kowloon shopping district of Mong Kok, a live video feed streamed online by the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper showed.

In a campaign that has lasted nearly three weeks, the protesters led mostly by students are pushing for free elections in Hong Kong and the resignation of the city's leader Leung Chun-ying after Beijing offered what they called "fake" universal suffrage.

The renewed protests came even as Leung's administration agreed to meet students for a dialogue over their demands for public nomination of candidates in 2017 elections for Leung's successor.

Tuesday Talks

Alex Chow of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) on Friday confirmed that his group and the government have agreed to meet next Tuesday in a debate that will be aired live by government broadcaster RTHK.

"Make way! Make way!" the crowd chanted in the densely populated area of Mong Kok as volunteers clad in face-masks and black T-shirts ran back and forth with iron traffic barriers, fastening them together with plastic ties to build fresh barriers across the street.

Rows of police in riot helmets, carrying batons and shields, some with dogs, faced off with protesters, but were forced to retreat further down the street, before dozens of reinforcements arrived at the scene.

Local television showed footage of police beating protesters who tried to build barricades with batons, and holding up banners saying "Stop Charging or we Use Force."

But the crowd, part of the Occupy Central pro-democracy civil disobedience movement, eventually forced the police to retreat two blocks down Kowloon's busy shopping street, Nathan Road. Several males were detained by police during the clashes, Cable TV reported.

Inverted umbrellas

Protesters passed inverted umbrellas over the heads to those nearest the barricades as protection against pepper spray, before breaking into a chant of "Real universal suffrage!" and "Triads!" in a reference to Hong Kong's criminal gangs accused by protesters of mounting attacks on Occupy supporters.

"The police were trying to push the protesters back onto the sidewalk, and raised the red flag warning of pepper spray," a student surnamed Chow who was at the scene told RFA.

"The police used their batons to hit people; this was really an excessive use of force to disperse the demonstrators," Chow said. "The protesters behaved in a very peaceful manner, and didn't fight back."

He said he and his fellow students would hang onto the territory they'd gained for as long as possible.

"I and my fellow students and friends will definitely be staying in Mong Kok," Chow said. "Mong Kok is a very important [Occupy] site."

A protester surnamed Tung said more and more citizens seemed to be turning out in Mong Kok.

"I don't think it's a question of how much territory we hold as how many people there are," Tung said. "It doesn't matter how much territory we hold; if enough people turn out we can [gain ground]."

Photos posted to Twitter during the melee showed a police minibus "driving into the crowd," according to a tweet from Hong Kong-based journalist Ivan Broadhead.

"Crushing them/us against a barricade," the tweet said. A later tweet said police "have totally lost control of situation. Megaphones, yelling."

Police use batons to hit pro-democracy protesters (L) using raised umbrellas for protection during a clash in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong, Oct. 17, 2014. Credit: AFP
Police use batons to hit pro-democracy protesters (L) using raised umbrellas for protection during a clash in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong, Oct. 17, 2014. Credit: AFP AFP
Clearance operations

The clashes came after police warned protesters not to return and try to occupy Nathan Road after the clearance operation in the early hours of Friday.

A section of the northbound lanes of Nathan Road in the district were reopened to traffic following a police operation early Friday morning.

"Police officers will take resolute action against anyone who tries to reoccupy the section," senior superintendent Steve Hui told reporters on Friday.

Journalist detained

Meanwhile, a foreign journalist was detained in Mong Kok while covering the protests, the Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) of Hong Kong said in a statement on its website on Friday.

Photographer Paula Bronstein was detained while covering the protests in Mong Kok, it said.

"The FCC condemns the detention tonight of award-winning Getty photographer Paula Bronstein," the statement said.

It said police had also threatened other journalists at the scene.

"One was told he would be beaten with a baton if he tried to cross the road," the statement said, adding that such tactics are "a flagrant violation" of the media's right to cover an unfolding news story.

"We demand the immediate release of Ms Bronstein and an end to such intimidation," it said.


Across the harbor, a large crowd of protesters surged onto Lung Wo Street near government headquarters in Admiralty, on Hong Kong Island, which was cleared by police amid violent clashes in the early hours of Friday morning.

Traffic was still moving on one lane of the road in the early hours of Saturday, with rows of police trying to prevent the crowd from surging onto the main carriageway, once more blocking traffic, live video footage showed.

Leung has said there is "zero chance" that Beijing's National People's Congress (NPC) will change its Aug. 31 decision ruling out public nomination of candidates, although all of Hong Kong's five million voters will elect the next chief executive.

But Leung has hinted that there could be changes made to the make-up of the nominations committee that screens candidates.

A student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology surnamed Cheung said she had little faith that the talks would yield any results, however.

"I don't think the government has any sincerity when it says it will hold a dialogue with us," Cheung said. "Because at the same time they say that, they send in the police to clear the protesters [from Occupy sites], or the next day the triads come to hurt us."

"We are very angry, and that's why we are going to continue [with the protests], to protect our democracy," she said.

Reported by Wen Yuqing, Lin Jing, Ho Ka-wah and Pan Jiaqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan and Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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