Hong Kong Crackdown Draws Ire as Video of Beating Sparks Outrage

Skirmishes With Police Signal Shift in Tone of Hong Kong’s Democracy Protests

Hong Kong police pepper sprayed pro-democracy protesters in the early hours of Thursday after a group of them tried to cut off one of the city’s main roads.
HONG KONG—Scuffles again broke out between student protesters and police on Thursday, leading to the arrest of two demonstrators. The agitation comes a day aftera video that appeared to show police beating a protester drew outrage but offered a chance to inject fresh momentum into the flagging movement.

Thousands of people had poured into the city’s main protest site in the Admiralty district Wednesday to protest the crackdown by police, who forcibly removed crowds earlier in the day from a tunnel outside the offices of the city’s chief executive.

“[We] can’t tolerate police brutality anymore. See you in Admiralty tonight,” said Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old leader of the Scholarism student group, in a Facebook FB -0.52% post.

Mr. Wong later told crowds that in the past he had frequently told protesters not to blame the police, and that the police were just doing their job. “From now on, I won’t say that anymore,” he said.

Protesters also surrounded a police station in the neighboring district of Wan Chai, chanting slogans such as “Shame on you, police.” Scuffles continued early Thursday.

Around 1 a.m., police arrested a man in Admiralty for throwing a water bottle at a passing car. Demonstrators surrounded the police to attempt to stop the arrest, chanting, “Release!” for a half hour. Police responded by using pepper spray on the protesters. Another man was arrested in the scuffle.

Officers move in to clear crowds in Admiralty. Reuters

The harsher tone of the protests this week raised questions about how long the city would allow the fights over territory in some of the busiest neighborhoods in the world. The flashes of violence were at odds with the demonstration’s roots in peaceful civil disobedience.

The video, aired by a local broadcaster, appears to show half a dozen police officers hauling a man in plastic handcuffs around a dark corner, then taking turns kicking him repeatedly.

Police said they would conduct an investigation into the arrest. Hong Kong’s security secretary said the officers involved were reassigned pending an investigation. The man in the video was identified as Ken Tsang, a social worker; His lawyer, Dennis Kwok, said Mr. Tsang was arrested on suspicion of unlawful assembly. He was later freed, Mr. Kwok said.

The video was shot in the early morning as police beat back a push by protesters to maintain their occupation of downtown areas. The overnight melee signaled an escalation in tensions around the rallies, which have paralyzed Hong Kong streets for nearly three weeks.

Hong Kong police officers push protesters to a nearby park to clear the main roads outside government headquarters in Admiralty on Wednesday Associated Press

Alex Chow, the 24-year-old leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said his group had no role in the storming of the tunnel. It didn’t attempt to stop or discourage protesters from the move, “because they couldn’t be stopped,” Mr. Chow said.

The student group has consistently taken a hands-off approach toward what it calls “front-line” protesters battling police, leaving the protest movement at times without clear marching orders.

Isaac Tsang, a 26-year-old worker at a property-management company who has been out protesting for more than a week, expressed reservations about the tunnel occupation. “We are trying to occupy people’s hearts, not occupy more land,” Mr. Tsang said.

Jerry Law, a 34-year-old fitness instructor, said he disagreed with the storming of the tunnel. “It gives the government an excuse to use force,” he said. “A group of protesters’ thinking is becoming increasingly radical and warlike. They aren’t thinking of this as a peaceful movement anymore. My only hope is that no one gets injured.”

Occupy Central with Love and Peace, the third main protest organizer, which has played a supporting role to the two student groups, denounced the violence Wednesday and cautioned protesters to stick to nonviolent demonstrations. But moves to clear protesters are unlikely to stop; a person familiar with police strategy said Tuesday they plan to clear other areas.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the government took the complaint about violence seriously and would use set procedures to handle it. He also described the protest movement as having “spun out of control” and said it had hurt the city’s economic activities.

“The losses suffered by various Hong Kong sectors as a result of the Occupy movement won’t help yield an election arrangement that’s satisfactory to all.”

A pro-democracy protester shakes his fist at police officers as they advance in Hong Kong on Wednesday.Alex Ogle/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Raymond Tam, Hong Kong secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, said a middleman is seeking to arrange a dialogue between the government officials and the Hong Kong Federation of Students. Mr. Chow said the group hadn’t yet been contacted, but was open to dialogue with the government. He said the group saw the force used by police early Wednesday as acts by individual police officers and said it wouldn’t lead the group to turn its back on talks. The Hong Kong government called off planned talks last week, saying the students’ demands kept shifting.

The road clearance that triggered the scuffles allowed lawmakers to enter the legislature Wednesday to hold their first full session since the protests begun. During Wednesday’s legislative council meeting, pro-democracy legislators grilled security chief Lai Tung-kwok and asked for investigations into possible criminal offenses by the police in the video.

Protesters’ core demands are for freer elections than those proposed by Beijing. The current plan would effectively ensure no candidate unacceptable to Beijing will be allowed to run for the city’s top post.

One of the clearest signals yet from Beijing came on Wednesday. China’s most senior official in Hong Kong, Zhang Xiaoming, told pro-establishment lawmakers in the city that protesters were using “radical forms of street confrontation” to pressure Beijing and the Hong Kong government, according to the official China News Service that cited a person with knowledge of the matter.

“The best means to avoid having all of Hong Kong’s residents pay a greater price would be to end ‘Occupy Central’ as soon as possible,” Mr. Zhang was quoted as saying during a dinner Tuesday evening.

Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, in a brief statement on Wednesday, joined the calls for the protesters to go home. “We can understand the passion of Hong Kong students, but their pursuit should be guided by wisdom; everyone should follow the law,” he said. “If the law breaks down, it will be the biggest tragedy for Hong Kong.”

—Charles Hutzler, Isabella Steger and Prudence Ho
contributed to this article.


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