Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrators came under assault at two protest sites in the city as hundreds of men tussled with students, shouted abuse and removed barricades.
Protest leader Benny Tai urged activists to leave Mong Kok, saying lives could be at risk. In Causeway Bay, where more confrontations took place, a group trying to reclaim a main road described themselves as ordinary citizens.
The violence forced protesters to leave swathes of the city they had occupied for the past week, with police escorting some students past angry crowds shouting abuse in Mong Kok. Protest leaders said they will cancel planned talks with the government unless the police halt what they called “organized attacks.”
“We see that violent thugs are maliciously attacking demonstrators,” said Tai, founder of the Occupy Central With Love and Peace group. “We urge citizens who are participating in the Occupy movement to leave Mong Kok immediately and come to rally in Admiralty, so that we can support each other.”
Causeway Bay and Mong Kok -- a working-class area across the harbor in Kowloon -- are popular shopping districts. The centrally located Admiralty has been the biggest stronghold for the activists, who have surrounded the government headquarters there.
The pro-democracy demonstrations have paralyzed parts of central Hong Kong this week and affected sales at retailers including Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group Ltd., as well as the takings of bars, restaurants and cab drivers. Demonstrators want public nomination of candidates for the 2017 leadership contest, and the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
“If I see those people wearing yellow ribbon, I will crush them,” said Lee, one of the men at Mong Kok shouting at the students to leave. “Everyone is affected by this inconvenience. Our police are too tolerant.”
At Mong Kok, crowds of men attempted to cross police lines to get at student protesters, who are mainly dressed in black T- shirts with yellow ribbons pinned on sleeves. The men -- many of whom refused to speak with reporters -- taunted the students and challenged them to fights. An ambulance was seen carrying away people that may have been injured in the scuffles.
“We have been abiding by the principle of non-violent demonstration,” said Lester Shum, vice secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. “We absolutely condemn these kinds of actions.”
Police are most concerned about rising tensions in Mong Kok, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified, because the discussions are confidential.
The police is urging demonstrators to leave Mong Kok, Mok Hing-wing, the assistant district commander, told reporters this afternoon. Protesters should also leave Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, he said.
“I am indeed very concerned about the clashes we have seen in Mong Kok,” Carrie Lam, chief secretary told reporters today. “These protests on the streets have great vulnerability to turn into critical violence between the protesters and the anti- protesters.”
The protests were triggered by China’s decision that candidates for chief executive in the 2017 elections be vetted by a committee, which pro-democracy groups say will guarantee their loyalty to China. The protests swelled after police dragged off students who tried to storm the main square of government headquarters on Sept. 26 and then used tear gas two days later in a bid to disperse the spreading demonstrations.