Police Armed With Pepper Spray and Batons Clashed With Demonstrators in Hong Kong Overnight

Hong Kong protesters agree to remove some barricades from blocked areas, as fears grew that officials would move in to end the standoff for good.

Reuters

AP - Hong Kong protesters have agreed to remove some of the barricades from areas blocked during the week-long sit-in.

Police armed with pepper spray and batons clashed with demonstrators in Hong Kong on Saturday, as fears grew Sunday that officials would move in to clear the streets of pro-democracy protesters and end the standoff for good.

Large crowds of protesters scuffled with police overnight in the blue-collar Mong Kok district in Kowloon, a flashpoint that has seen violent clashes between pro-democracy student protesters and their antagonists over the weekend.

Police said the crowds had provoked officers with verbal abuse, while the students accuse police of failing to protect them from attacks by mobs intent on driving them away. The students claim that police had allied with criminal gangs to clear them, but the government has vehemently denied it

As the protests entered their eighth day Sunday, the atmosphere on the streets was tense amid fears police may use pepper spray and tear gas to disperse them, as they did last weekend.

The city's top leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, appeared on television Saturday evening to once again urge everyone to go home, saying key roads paralyzed by protesters need to return to normal by Monday.

"The government and the police have the duty and determination to take all necessary actions to restore social order so the government and the 7 million people of Hong Kong can return to their normal work and life," Leung said.

Tens of thousands of people, many students, have taken to the streets in the past week to protest China's restrictions on the election for the city's top leader. The protests are the strongest challenge to the authorities in Hong Kong — and in Beijing —since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Beijing has promised that the city can have universal suffrage by 2017, but it says a committee of mostly pro-Beijing figures must screen candidates for the top job. The protesters are also demanding Leung's resignation, but he has refused.

The next steps are uncertain, after student leaders called off planned talks with the government until officials respond to claims that police tolerated attacks by alleged mobsters. Police had earlier arrested 19 people in the brawls in Mong Kok, including eight men believed to have backgrounds linked to triads, or organized crime.

"In the last week we have seen the police have cooperated with gangs and triads. They are no longer law enforcers. I don't think they deserve our respect anymore," said accountant Tony Chan, 26.

Thin streams of protesters were arriving Sunday morning in Admiralty, a key ground for the Occupy movement.

The arrival of three police at the protest ground outside Leung's office sparked tensions, as protesters worried the vans carried arms that could be used against them. Police negotiators tried to persuade protesters to let the vans through and said they carried only food and water for officers.

"I believe there will be lots of people who want to stop the police clearing this place. But if the police use rubber bullets, or real bullets, there will be many people who will leave the place because it will be too dangerous," said Jack Fung, 19, a student.

Fung said he supported allowing civil servants to go back to work Monday, but he believed protesters should block Leung from entering his office.

Protesters staged a massive rally lasting hours Saturday, with thousands chanting "Democracy now! Democracy in Hong Kong!" Participants clapped and cheered as a stream of speakers and singers urged them to persist and performed popular songs.

"We are not seeking revolution. We just want democracy!" said Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old student leader. "We hope there will be no violence," he said. "It would be unfortunate if this movement ended with bloodshed and violence."