Clashes as police clear Mongkok
HONG Kong police clashed with pro-democracy demonstrators in Mongkok last night, hosing them with pepper spray after protesters refused to disperse following the clearing of barricades.
Officers wearing riot gear pushed back protesters in areas around the re-opened Argyle Street, spraying the liquid from elevated platforms. Some protesters unfurled umbrellas - the symbol of their movement - to shield themselves from the spray.
At least 32 people were arrested after clashes extended into the night after a clearance that began yesterday morning in the densely populated working-class district that is a tourist and shopping area.
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 city's leadership election in 2017.
"Police will ensure that the cleared roads will not be occupied again," Senior Superintendent Kong Man Keung said at a press briefing. "If that happens, police will take resolute action. We're here to restore social order and public safety."
In contrast to the court injunction-led clearance of Argyle Street, where bailiffs and the police spent six hours freeing up one block in the morning, the police last night swept crowds from three city blocks in just 15 minutes, preventing them from becoming new scenes of occupation.
Supt Kong said nine arrests were for assaults on police officers and 23 for criminal contempt of court, after a court order to clear part of the Mongkok protest site.
Authorities have restored vehicle traffic on Argyle Street, which had been blocked for about two months.
Mongkok has been the scene of some of the most violent clashes between demonstrators and the authorities since the sit-ins began in September.
The clashes come as public support wanes for the demonstrators demanding free leadership elections, and as the movement's leaders are split on the next move.