Violent Clashes in Hong Kong as Protests Escalate

After two months of street protests calling for full universal suffrage, which have yielded few concessions from the government, student protesters escalated their actions Sunday by surrounding the government office buildings in the Admiralty district in an effort to prevent city officials from going to work Monday morning. Police responded with pepper spray and batons. Over the past week, court bailiffs have partially cleared protesters’ encampments in both Admiralty and Mong Kok, though many demonstrators remained in recent days. Kelvin Chan of AP describes the scene and reports that 40 people were arrested:

After student leaders told a big crowd rallying Sunday evening at the main protest site outside government headquarters that they would escalate their campaign, hundreds of protesters pushed past police lines on the other side of the complex from the protest site. They blocked traffic on a main road, but were stopped by police barricades from going down a side road to Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying’s office.

The protesters, many wearing surgical masks, hard hats and safety goggles and chanting “I want true democracy,” said they wanted to occupy the road to prevent Leung and other government officials from getting to work in the morning.

At one point, police charged the crowd, aggressively pushing demonstrators back with pepper spray and batons, after some protesters started pelting them with water bottles and other objects. They later fell back, letting demonstrators re-occupy the road.

Police Senior Superintendent Tsui Wai-hung said 40 protesters had been arrested, adding that authorities would not let the road, a major thoroughfare, remain blocked. [Source]

Claire Baldwin and James Pomfret report for Reuters:

The crowds, chanting “Surround government headquarters!” and “Open the road!”, had blocked a major road running in front of the offices of Hong Kong’s leader in the Admiralty district, next to Hong Kong’s central business district, late on Friday.

Hundreds of riot police scattered the crowds in chaotic scenes, forcing protesters back with pepper spray and batons, aimed at the backs and heads of those trying to scramble over walls to safety in a crush of bodies. A cloud of tear gas rose up in the middle of one particularly violent scuffle.

Scores of volunteer medics attended to the injured, many with open head wounds. Police said at least 18 arrests were made.

Despite the relatively swift clearance of Lung Wo road outside government headquarters in the early hours of Monday, large crowds, many in protective goggles and makeshift body armor, refused to leave the area and continued to press against police lines, chanting “We want universal suffrage!”. [Source]

Students interviewed by Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy of the New York Times say they have run out of patience with the government’s failure to respond to their demands:

A night of seesaw battles in the political heart of the city ended weeks of anxious calm at the protesters’ main street camp, and threw into question how much longer the Hong Kong government would tolerate hundreds of tents in Admiralty neighborhood, a stone’s throw from the city’s administrative and legislative complex.

Student protest leaders, who have dithered and debated over the direction of their movement, said their patience had expired.

“We feel that the government feels no pressure if this movement simply drags on like this,” said Oscar Lai, a leader of Scholarism, a protest group of high school and university students, who urged protesters to peacefully block the Hong Kong leader’s office. “This escalation shows that Hong Kong people can’t wait anymore.” [Source]

A live feed from Admiralty is available from Apple Daily:

More images from Sunday night and Monday morning posted on Twitter are below. The situation is still developing; for up-to-the-minute updates, see the South China Morning Post’s liveblog.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has refused entry to a group of British Members of Parliament who planned to visit Hong Kong to investigate relations with the United Kingdom 30 years after China resumed control of the former British territory. From the Guardian:

[Sir Richard] Ottoway accused the Chinese authorities of acting in an “overtly confrontational manner” and said that he would be pressing for an emergency Commons debate.

“I have been informed by the Chinese embassy that if we attempt to travel to Hong Kong we will be refused entry,” he said.

“We are a committee of elected Members of Parliament from a democratic nation who wish to scrutinise British diplomatic work in Hong Kong. The Chinese government are acting in an overtly confrontational manner in refusing us access to do our job. I shall be asking the Speaker tomorrow to grant an emergency debate on the floor of the House.”

The Foreign Office (FCO) said the refusal to allow the committee to visit Hong Hong was “regrettable” and that it had made its view known to the Chinese authorities at “the most senior levels”.

Last week, another group of MPs was refused visas to travel to China after one of the participants had shown support for the Hong Kong protests in a public debate.

Scenes from Admiralty:

Read more about the Hong Kong protests over the past two months, via CDT.