Police to get tough on HK protesters
HONG Kong leader Leung Chun Ying has issued a stern warning to pro-democracy protesters, advising them not to "mistake police restraint as weakness".
This, as thousands of activists forced the temporary closure of government headquarters yesterday after clashing with police and defying orders to retreat.
"I advise everyone who's still occupying or thinking of returning to protest sites tonight, especially the young students, not to mistake the tolerance of our police force in the past as an inability to deal with the protests," he said at a press conference.
He said that police would now take "resolute action", suggesting that patience may have finally run out after more than two months of sustained protests.
The clashes came after student leaders rallied supporters to try to escalate the protests, after the police cleared demonstrators from the Mongkok district across the harbour last week.
Public support for the protesters has been flagging and China's government has refused to reverse the decision to screen candidates for the city's first leadership election in 2017. This decision had triggered the occupation.
Chaos erupted as commuters made their way to work, with hundreds of student-led protesters surrounding Admiralty Centre, which houses offices and retail outlets, in a stand-off with police. The central government offices and the legislature were forced to close in the morning, as did scores of shops.
In some of the most violent clashes since the start of the movement in September, dozens of students and police officers were taken to local hospitals.
Scores of volunteer medics attended to numerous injured, some of whom lay unconscious and others with blood streaming from head gashes. Police said at least 40 arrests were made.
The government said that police took action against the protesters after "violent radicals repeatedly provoked and verbally abused police officers". Protesters threw water bottles, helmets and pepper powder at police, it added.
Alex Chow, leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said that the protesters had intended to paralyse government headquarters as they wanted to "exert pressure on the authorities, and the government headquarters is the symbol of central power".
However, he admitted that "the plan was a failure on the whole", "given that even if some places were occupied, they were cleared by the police immediately".
Financial Secretary John Tsang said the protests had damaged Hong Kong's international image and hurt investor confidence, adding that the city's economic growth could be lower than the government forecast of 2.2 per cent. The territory also reported a slowdown in monthly retail sales.
The unrest came as British lawmakers said they had been told by the Chinese Embassy that they would not be allowed to enter Hong Kong, as part of an inquiry into Britain's relations with its former colony and progress towards democracy.