Hundreds of officers swoop on Mong Kok district to clear away demonstrators’ metal barricades and bamboo poles
Hong Kong police have cleared out one of the city’s main pro-democracy protest sites with no resistance, marking a new government strategy of dismantling the barricades with quiet, stepwise operations rather than shows of force.
Protesters in the working-class neighbourhood of Mong Kok said hundreds of officers, some carrying riot shields, began clearing the zone at 7am on Friday morning without notice. Within half an hour police had removed the metal barricades, bamboo poles and heavy recycling bins protesters had used to block off a four-way intersection. About 30 people lay on the ground during the operation, refusing to move.
The demonstrations, which have continued for almost three weeks, seemed to have reached a tactical impasse. Friday’s operation marks the third time police have cleared away barricades at dawn when demonstrators were asleep, only to have hundreds return later in the day to reclaim roads and rebuild their makeshift fortifications.
Police left the main protest zone, Admiralty, untouched.
Recent attempts to clear the demonstrations by force have largely backfired – reports of police beating and pepper-spraying people on Tuesday and Wednesday night reinvigorated the movement and the number of demonstrators swelled.
By early Friday afternoon, about 100 protesters remained on Mong Kok’s main thoroughfare, Nathan Road, blocking southbound traffic. A row of protesters sat on the curb wearing hard hats and goggles, ostensibly to defend against beatings and pepper spray.
Dozens of police stood watch, occasionally herding away pro-Beijing counter-protesters who gathered on the sidewalks and heckled the sparse crowd.
“We hope to stay at this site until five o’clock because many people come here after work, and it’s Friday, so maybe they’ll stay for the weekend,” said Kenny Ho, 23, a student at Hong Kong University, who has been coming to Mong Kok since the protest began. “Then we can enlarge the area again.”
Protesters are demanding a more robust democracy for the city of 7 million before its next major elections in 2017. China’s central government, which rules the city under a “one country, two systems” arrangement, has advanced an electoral framework that would only allow pro-Beijing candidates to run. The Hong Kong government, under pressure from Beijing, has offered to open talks with protest leaders but has also signalled there is little room for negotiation.
Josh Chu, a 34-year-old part-time student, said: “Of course we want to occupy more roads, because this will give us more strength in negotiations with the government.” He said that while the occupation would not likely grant the city universal suffrage by 2017, “we do whatever we can for the improvement of democracy in Hong Kong. We don’t know what the consequences will be, but we’ll try our best.”
On Thursday afternoon, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, announced that the government would be willing to open talks with the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the protest’s main organisers, as early as next week. The organisation’s leaders welcomed the overture but vowed that the protests would continue.