Hong Kong Police Forcibly Clear Protesters’ Barricades

Hong Kong Police Forcibly Clear Protesters’ Barricades

Hong Kong have cleared a number of protest sites in the city, removing the increasingly elaborate barriers erected in response to earlier efforts. The makeshift fortifications included everything from cling film, wire and rubbish bins to iron chains and cement, with a bamboo skeleton provided by sympathetic construction workers. From Keith Bradsher at The New York Times:

Eric Wu, a 37-year-old construction worker, has spent his entire adult life building and climbing bamboo scaffolding as high as 50 floors above the ground.

But on Monday morning, he used his talents to pursue a different goal — lashing together two-inch-thick bamboo poles in an elaborate lattice that he designed to protect an encampment of pro- student protesters here. The lattice was a yard high, about 20 feet wide and 30 feet deep, and blocked a road near the Hong Kong Police Headquarters.

[…] Mr. Wu’s labors brought together one of China’s oldest traditions — bamboo scaffolding — with Hong Kong’s widespread aspirations for democracy, particularly among the young, and a dissatisfaction with the local economy among blue-collar workers.

[…] Mr. Wu began creating his bamboo barrier after the police, in a series of raids on protest encampments Monday, carted off many of the barriers of steel or super-hardened plastic that the students had been using. Most of these barriers actually belonged to the police, but the students had commandeered them when the police largely withdrew from the city center on Sept. 29. [Source]

Once the original barriers had been cleared, counter-protesters swept in. It remains unclear whether their actions were coordinated with those of the police, as many protest supporters have alleged. From The Washington Post’s Simon Denyer:

Tensions peaked about midday Monday as hundreds of people converged on the site demanding that the roads be reopened.

As the opponents chanted slogans against the sit-in, groups of men, many wearing surgical masks, rushed the barricades at both ends of Queensway, a wide street that runs through Admiralty district.

[…] “Open the roads,” chanted dozens of people unhappy with the sit-in, accusing the students of being tools of the West and not “real Chinese.”

“Don’t let them pass,” the pro-democracy demonstrators replied, accusing their opponents of not being Hong Kong natives. “Go back to the mainland,” they chanted. “Speak Cantonese.” [Source]

The subsequently rebuilt barriers were short-lived, as the AFP’s Jerome Taylor and Dennis Chong reported:

Around 150 police dismantled metal barricades at the Causeway Bay site before dawn Tuesday, an AFP journalist at the scene saw, freeing up traffic in one direction but leaving the protest camp there largely intact.

Hours later another contingent of officers hit barricades at the main Admiralty site, using chainsaws to slice through bamboo poles that had been used to reinforce protest cordons following a similar attempt to remove them on Monday.

Some protesters were seen sobbing.

“We are only residents and students,” one tearful young woman shouted at police. “We will leave as we are unable to fight you, but we will not give up.”

[…] Police told reporters that the operation was limited to removing barricades along key traffic routes and that the democracy campaigners would still be given space to express their views. [Source]

The rise and fall of the bamboo barricades was documented on Twitter:

The pattern repeated when protesters repelled police and barricaded a tunnel on Lung Wo Road, only to be swept away hours later with 45 of their number arrested. From Jacky Wong, Enda Curran and Chester Yung at The Wall Street Journal:

The confrontation came as police stepped up efforts to clear roads that have been blocked since Sept. 28. Protesters late Tuesday night flooded into a tunnel near the government headquarters, the center of the protesters’ territory, halting traffic and surrounding a small group of police officers. Police retreated and protesters built barricades with concrete stones meant to cover storm sewers.

The tunnel had been open to traffic for most of the occupation, and police demanded it be reopened. Hours later, police returned with a larger force and retook the tunnel, arresting several protesters and removing barriers. Protesters were being led out of the tunnel with their hands tied with plastic cuffs and traffic began to flow again.

[…] A person familiar with the police strategy said it was a “piece-by-piece” approach with the purpose of avoiding the use of force. “If the police can take down or clear areas without using excessive force, they will do it,” the person said. [Source]

Other reports suggested less restraint by police, however. From AFP’s Jerome Taylor:

Ben Ng, an 18-year-old student, was with protesters near a newly built barricade when the baton-wielding contingent approached. “Police used pepper spray without any threat or warning. Protesters were beaten by police,” he said.

“Both protesters and police, their emotions are very unstable.

“The government doesn’t want to talk to us and we don’t know why. We hope to start talks again as soon as possible because protesters are very tired at this moment.”

[…] Daniel Cheng, a reporter for an online news portal, told AFP: “(Police) grabbed me, more than 10 police, and they beat me, punches, kicks, elbows. I tried to tell them I’m a reporter but they didn’t listen.” [Source]

Additionally, Civic Party member Ken Tsang Kin-chiu reportedly endured a sustained beating by police. A police spokesman responded that “even though protesters raised their hands in their air it does not mean it was a peaceful protest.” Some officers, he claimed, had been kicked or attacked with umbrellas.

As before, the events were covered as they unfolded on Twitter:

At Bloomberg View, Adam Minter suggested that a spiral of repeated entrenchment and removal could squander what gains the protesters have made, writing that “this might just be the moment for them to declare victory and go home.”

True, the government has refused to make even symbolic concessions to the protesters, who have been demanding the resignation of the city’s current leader, Leung Chun-Ying, and a more open system for electing a new chief executive in 2017. Still, for more than two weeks now, student-led crowds have displayed remarkable discipline and resilience as they’ve peacefully shut down some of the busiest commercial neighborhoods on the planet. They’ve clearly won the global publicity battle over Beijing, and have developed extremely useful organizing capacity that can be deployed again in the future.

[…] The end of the protests will certainly strike many as a disappointment, and perhaps even a debacle. But that’s to miss how thoroughly the students have altered the debate about Hong Kong’s relationship to China. Opposition turns out to be deeper and younger than many – including China’s Communist rulers – ever imagined. Going home peacefully won’t change that message. In fact, by staging a tactical retreat now, protesters will only enhance their standing in advance of the political battles to come. [Source]

For the latest developments from Hong Kong, follow South China Morning Post’s liveblog.

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