HONG KONG, Nov 26 — Hong Kong plans to clear demonstrators from a key road at Mong Kok today after violent clashes broke out last night in the biggest police action in the pro-democracy protest site.
A bailiff read out a court order for the removal of make- shift barricades at Nathan Road this morning, as rows of protesters sat on the street facing off against ranks of policemen.
Demonstrators fought running battles with police officers last night in the streets of Mong Kok, a densely populated working-class district, after the removal of some barricades. Protesters’ options are shrinking as the police enforce court orders, public support wanes and China refuses to give in to their demands that it allows free election for the city’s leadership in 2017.
“If we continue to see a repeat of what happened last night, it’s not going to help,” said Jason Szeto, a student coordinator at Mong Kok. “We are looking at the possibilities of actions that could get the government to respond.”
Police arrested 116 people, with 20 officers injured in the Mong Kok operation, it said today. The two-month old protests, the most disruptive since China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, were sparked by Beijing’s decision to screen candidates for the 2017 election.
The clashes last night came after court bailiffs and the police cleared protesters from Argyle Street in an operation lasting more than five hours.
As the evening approached, officers wearing riot gear then pushed back demonstrators in areas around the street, pepper spraying from elevated platforms. Some protesters unfurled umbrellas, the symbol of their movement.
The police will clear road junctions and reclaim government property taken by the occupiers today, according to a city- government release late yesterday. It may charge people obstructing the clearance with contempt of court, it said.
“Police will ensure that the cleared roads will not be occupied again,” police Senior Superintendent Kong Man-keung said at a press briefing yesterday. “If that happens, police will take resolute action. We’re here to restore social order and public safety.”
Among the people arrested was Leung Kwok-hung, the pro- democracy lawmaker known as “Long Hair,” Cable News Network reported on its website yesterday, citing his office.
Mong Kok, in Kowloon on the north side of Victoria Harbor, has seen some of the most violent clashes since the demonstrations started. Admiralty, on Hong Kong island, is the main protest site, where demonstrators have erected hundreds of tents outside the government headquarters.
Public support for the movement, which swelled after police fired tear gas at umbrella-wielding demonstrators on Sept. 28, is waning. About 68 percent of respondents said the government should take action to end the student-led protests, according to a survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong Nov. 17-18.
Yesterday, the government offered to hold talks with students, under condition they drop their main demand that China reverse its decision to vet candidates for the 2017 election. “We are always open to communication,” Carrie Lam, the city’s No. 2 official, told reporters. “But if they insist on some impractical conditions,” such as the reversal of China’s ruling, then there’s no room for talks, Lam said.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students, the key group behind the protest, will probably make an announcement this evening or tomorrow, Szeto said.
The movement is splintering, with some advocating more- violent action while others want the demonstrations to end.
A small group of protesters last week smashed through a glass door of the Legislative Council in Admiralty, leading to condemnation from protest leaders and pro-democracy lawmakers. — Bloomberg