Twenty injured in another night of violence, threatening to undermine efforts for talks between students and government
Hong Kong police and pro-democracy protesters have clashed for the second night in the gentrifying neighbourhood of Mong Kok, threatening to undermine a day of efforts by students and government officials to defuse tensions as the unprecedented demonstrations stretch into their third week.
The government said 20 people were injured in clashes which began around midnight on Saturday when riot police launched a baton charge at a large crowd on Nathan Road, one of the area’s main thoroughfares; the protesters retreated about 50m but then quickly regrouped donning goggles, masks and construction helmets. Many held umbrellas to protect themselves from pepper spray.
“Put your hands up, show me you don’t have any weapons,” one officer shouted across the metal guardrails dividing throngs of police and protesters.
Some demonstrators had to be carried away on stretchers and others treated for head wounds, fractures and bruising, according to AFP journalists and medics at the scene.
Police said in a statement Sunday that they had used “minimum force” as protesters “suddenly attempted to charge” their cordon lines. Protesters told AFP they had done nothing to provoke officers.
Lester Shum, the deputy secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the protest’s organising groups, urged the police to exercise restraint in a speech to the crowd. “We’re not your enemies,” he said; the crowd applauded.
Shum reiterated the protesters’ core demands: “true universal suffrage” and democracy for the city’s next chief executive election, in 2017. The Hong Kong government, under pressure from central Chinese authorities, has endorsed a more restrictive electoral framework, which would only allow pro-Beijing candidates to run for the city’s top office. Neither side appears willing to back down.
Even before the clashes, Nathan Road was thronged with protesters, reinforcing barricades, sleeping in tents and sitting in small circles on the pavement; many travelled to the area to express solidarity with demonstrators who were beaten by police the night before. “When I saw the news last night, I wanted to cry,” said one woman, who requested anonymity because her parents work in mainland China.
On Saturday afternoon, Hong Kong’s chief secretary, Carrie Lam, set a date for a dialogue with the Hong Kong Federation of Students, a surprising conciliatory gesture given the demonstrators’ recalcitrance.
The scheduled dialogue — the first formal meeting between the two groups — will take place on Tuesday at the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine, and will last two hours, Lam said in a statement. Five officials will take part, and five student representatives. It will be broadcast live. “I am very much looking forward to having this dialogue with the student representatives,” she said.
Lam had offered talks with student leaders earlier this month, but unilaterally cancelled them shortly afterwards, as the distance between the two sides appeared too wide to reach any substantial agreements.
Friday night’s clashes in Mong Kok were perhaps the most intense since the protests began on 28 September. About 9,000 protesters flooded the district, trying to re-occupy an intersection that police had cleared during an early-morning raid. Scores of protesters were injured, as well as 18 police. According to a police statement, 33 people were arrested for “common assault, criminal damage, disorderly conduct in a public place, resisting arrest, obstructing police in execution of duty and possession of offensive weapons.”
The clearance operation “provoked the re-occupation action that has further strained relations between the police and the public,” the protest group Occupy Central with Love and Peace said in a statement.
On Saturday afternoon, the main protest site in the Admiralty district – now an elaborate sprawl of tents and pro-democracy art installations – was buzzing with demonstrators and curious passerby. Many protesters said that they would not leave until the government offered a significant compromise.
“We want real feedback from the government. We want true elections. We want to know why the police did what they did,” said Edmond Law, 25, an IT worker who camped out at the protest overnight. “So far, the government hasn’t given us anything. They just say, ‘go home, go home.’ We find that unacceptable.”