Hong Kong Police Arrest 26 Amid Street Clashes

After police cleared out protest camps in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok district yesterday with little resistance from the pro-democracy protesters who had been occupying streets in the area for three weeks, demonstrators returned hours later, and violent clashes with police ensued. The BBC reports:

Fresh clashes have broken out between Hong Kong police and pro-democracy protesters, with officers using pepper spray and batons against the crowd.

The scuffles erupted as demonstrators tried to reclaim a protest site in Mong Kok cleared by police early on Friday.

[…] Riot police cleared tents and barricades from a Mong Kok road early on Friday morning, saying it was needed to ease traffic congestion caused by the rallies.

There were no reports of resistance from any of the demonstrators, some of whom regrouped nearby.

However, the crowd of pro-democracy protesters swelled on Friday evening, and some activists attempted to break through police lines to re-occupy the road. [Source]

More details on the heavy force and scattered arrests that met the returning protesters, from Sylvia Hui and Kelvin Chan at the AP:

The government said some 9,000 people gathered at the scene, repeatedly charging police lines in an attempt to retake roads. Authorities said police arrested 26 people.

[…] One protester was seen bleeding from his forehead as he was carried to a police van, moments after he was forced to the ground by officers. In scenes repeated throughout the evening, officers used batons to beat back umbrellas used by the crowd of young protesters to defend themselves from pepper spray.

“The police have lost control. They are beating up protesters like we’re animals. We are angry. The students are our future,” said Tommy Lee, a 45-year-old technology worker who was outraged at seeing police handcuff four protesters who appeared to be high school students

[…] Also detained was Bangkok-based Getty photojournalist Paula Bronstein, who was hauled away by police for standing on the hood of a Mercedes-Benz amid the melee. Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents Club issued a statement demanding her immediate release, saying that police have threatened and intimidated other journalists covering the protests. [Source]

For a collection of Tweeted images and narration from the chaotic streets of Mong Kok, see below.

The crackdown comes after embattled Chief Executive CY Leung, whose resignation has been one of protesters’ primary demands, agreed yesterday to begin talks with student leaders after the government cancelled negotiations last week. Earlier, a report from Fairfax Media showed that Leung had profited in brokering a deal with an Australian firm prior to taking office. Some have speculated that information about Leung’s deal may have come from someone with ties to Beijing, thus providing the central government a reason to dismiss Leung and quell the protests. A report from Keith Bradsher and Chris Buckley at the New York Times further indicates the veiled role that Beijing has been playing in regards to Hong Kong:

On many mornings throughout the pro-democracy protests that have convulsed Hong Kong, white Toyota Coaster vans with special black license plates have set out from city government buildings here to a tropical resort across the border in mainland China.

[…] The secretive commute reflects the intimate yet largely hidden role that the Chinese Communist Party leadership has played in the crisis in Hong Kong. According to interviews with six current and former Hong Kong and Chinese government officials, as well as experts in both countries, it is China’s leaders more than Hong Kong’s who have directed the broad outlines of the response here. With China’s needs foremost in mind, they have calibrated a careful balance between a steadfast refusal to give ground on the protesters’ demands for democratic elections and the need to avoid widespread bloodshed that would further destabilize the city, a global financial center.

[…] “Clearly, it’s Beijing that is dominating the decisions about this movement,” said Jin Zhong, the editor of Open, a Hong Kong current affairs magazine that focuses on Communist Party politics. “Of course, they wouldn’t admit that.” […] [Source]

In a detailed report for Tea Leaf Nation on increasingly heavy-handed crackdowns throughout Hong Kong, Suzanne Sataline describes the current stakes as skirmishes continue in Mong Kok, noting the strong resolve of protesters:

At stake is the city’s political future. Protesters, many of whom are students, have said they will stay on city streets until Beijing agrees to retract an elections plan that would restrict candidates for the city’s next chief executive to those vetted by the mainland’s Communist government. But officials in Beijing say the government will not relent. Hong Kong’s administration, closely managed by Beijing, has sent an increasingly exhausted and irritable police force to try to dislodge protesters. […]

[…] Losing Mong Kok would mean the students would have “nothing to bargain.”The government, they said, didn’t listen when tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets on July 1, right after Beijing released a paper asserting its authority over Hong Kong. “We never had a response. It shows the government doesn’t listen to us,” Tse said.

[…] Although the Leung administration could likely quell some unrest by offering compromise, it appears increasingly likely that the sit-ins and roadblocks are the start of a long period of unrest and agitation. How long can protesters keep this up? “Until [authorities] give us something solid,” said Mason Ma, 30, a high school teacher, overlooking the new barricades. “Whenever they clear up, we will come again to take our place back.” [Source]