Leaders of Hong Kong's long-running pro-democracy movement on Wednesday condemned an overnight attempt by unidentified men to break into the city's Legislative Council (LegCo).
Student leaders of the Occupy Central protests, which have taken over stretches of major highways in the former British colony since Sept. 28, and pan-democratic politicians said they were "heartbroken" by the attempt to smash through the glass-paneled entrance of the building in the early hours of Wednesday by protesters wielding broken paving stones.
"The violent acts have violated the principle of peace and nonviolence underlying the Umbrella Movement," Civic Party leader Alan Leong told reporters, in comments translated in the South China Morning Post newspaper.
"We feel the [break-in] will have a negative impact on the movement. We're heartbroken," Leong said.
Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung told local media he saw several masked men smashing the glass doors of the building with metal barriers.
He said the attack on the building could have been the result of rumors that an Internet censorship bill would be debated on Wednesday, adding that no such meeting would take place.
Police made six arrests at the scene at around 3:00 a.m. local time.
'Tired of waiting'
One of the men arrested said at the time that activists had grown tired of "waiting around for the police to clear the protests."
"We wanted to seize back the momentum ... because even though we're causing an obstruction to others, that's the only way you can achieve anything," the unnamed activist said.
But Occupy supporter Wong Wing-kei, who also witnessed the attack, said those who carried it out didn't look like typical democracy activists, and didn't represent the rest of the protesters.
"There was a gang of more than 20 people with no respect for the law," Wong said, adding that they were tattooed and looked like criminal gang members.
"They took paving stones and threw them, one after the other, at the glass," he said.
"[At Occupy Central], we like to express our views in a safe and peaceful manner," Wong said. "If we were going to commit acts of violence, we'd have done it a long time ago."
Bewildered by violence
One protester in Hong Kong's Umbrella Square, where campaigners have been camping peacefully on a major highway near government headquarters in a bid for free elections in 2017, said the attack had left him bewildered.
"I don't understand why they have suddenly carried out such an attack, and a violent one at that," the student occupier surnamed Loh told RFA.
"Our movement has always emphasized using peaceful methods of protest."
However, a second protester said there should be some escalation of the protest, which has dwindled since peaking in the hundreds of thousands after police used tear gas on protesters on Sept. 28.
"We haven't escalated the protests in more than a month now," the student, surnamed Wong, told RFA. "We should have done it much earlier."
'An act by rioters'
The Hong Kong government strongly condemned the violence, describing it as "an act by rioters."
Justice secretary Rimsky Yuen said nobody should think they can escape after breaking the law.
And Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) spokesman Lester Shum said the activists had acted on the basis of "false reports."
"When they were done smashing the glass, they scattered, with no regard for any of the other activists," Shum said.
"We have no wish to see actions like this," he said.
Hong Kong police chief superintendent Steve Hui said officers at the scene had been forced to use a "minimum amount of force" after protesters ignored police warnings to stop their activities.
Three police officers were injured in the clashes, while others had helmets and a baton stolen, Hui said.
The Occupy Central movement began after China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), ruled on Aug. 31 that while all five million of Hong Kong's voters can cast ballots in elections scheduled for 2017 for Hong Kong's chief executive, they will only be able to choose between two or three candidates preselected by Beijing.
Occupy protesters and pan-democratic politicians, who won 54 percent of the popular vote in the last legislative elections, have dismissed the proposed reform package as "fake universal suffrage."
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.