Occupy Central

Protesters form new blockades in Mong Kok after night of chaotic clashes with police

Twenty-six people arrested, including foreign journalist, and more than 60 reportedly injured on both sides during chaos

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 October, 2014, 11:45am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 October, 2014, 8:32pm

Protesters fighting for Hong Kong democracy formed new barricades and set up other obstacles on Saturday as they re-occupied some streets in Mong Kok, where violent clashes overnight between crowds and officers led to the arrests of at least 26 people.

Watch: Violent clashes in Mong Kok lead to arrests and injuries overnight

Hong Kong Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung broke a prolonged silence on the protests today, appearing before journalists to angrily condemn the recent events.

"Police strongly condemn those who participated in the unlawful assembly, charged police cordons and illegally occupied major thoroughfares in Mong Kok earlier this morning and last night. Such behaviours are neither peaceful nor non-violent," said Tsang, who last made a public statement when the civil disobedience movement started.

"The police have been extremely tolerant of the unlawful acts of the demonstrators in the past two to three weeks. We did this in the hope that they can calm down and express their views in an otherwise peaceful, rational and lawful manner. Unfortunately these protesters chose to carry on with their unlawful acts ... which are even more radical or violent.

"To these protesters, you may think that your illegal acts have prevented the police in going about our duties, disrupted our deployments and even forced us to retreat. Superficially that may be the case. But let me tell you this: these illegal acts are undermining the rule of law, undermining [what] Hong Kong has always been relying on to succeed," he said.

"If, from now on, the police fail to uphold law effectively, who is there to benefit? And what is there to gain?" Tsang said, then turned away immediately without taking questions from the press.

Meanwhile, an Occupy Central co-founder, Dr Chan Kin-man, said people were "saddened" by the clashes, and blamed both the police and the government for escalating tensions. 

“Last night was weird because the police knew that they couldn’t ... stop people from gathering by using pepper spray, but they still used it, so it was only arousing conflict,” Chan said.

“The biggest responsibility is on the government ... because it has taken 21 days and officials are still not talking to students,” he said.

MORE: Occupy co-founder 'saddened' by Mong Kok clashes

"We don’t want policemen and young people to get hurt because this is not a public order problem, it’s a political problem," he added, while also urging protesters not to expand occupation zones beyond those in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.

After an earlier clearing operation, police said as many as 9,000 people thronged major streets in Mong Kok overnight as officers armed with riot gear used batons and pepper spray to disperse the crowds.

Police were seen swinging their batons and using their shields to push back protesters in a bid to maintain police cordons. But by morning, pro-democracy demonstrators had claimed new protest zones.

Interactive map: Current barricades in Mong Kok

Officers arrested dozens of people during the chaos, including Getty photographer Paula Bronstein, who was taken away after she jumped on a car to take pictures. 

The 26 were arrested on suspicion of common assault, criminal damage, disorderly conduct in a public place, assaulting police officers, obstructing police officers and possession of offensive weapons, according to the police.

Authorities also said 15 officers were injured.

Meanwhile, a group of first-aid volunteers based on Shan Tung Street and Nathan Road said on Saturday that they treated at least 50 people for eye, head and other minor injuries caused by police pepper spray and baton charges last night.

Most of the injured were sent to the nearby Kwong Wah hospital, they said. Three people were sent by ambulance – two with head injuries and one with a dislocated shoulder.

Occupy first-aid volunteer Alex, 26, said: “The police were very aggressive and the protesters were very aggressive, and suffered in many conflicts.”

On Saturday, the occupied zone spanned a portion of Argyle Street, near the HSBC building, and a slice of Nathan Road that stretched from the Wai Fung Plaza to Dundas Street. Protesters fortified new defence lines. A senior commander interviewed at 1pm said the atmosphere in Mong Kok was still "very tense".

Some Occupy supporters also deliberately dropped coins on the ground near the junction of Shanghai Street and Argyle Street in a bid to slow traffic.

As of 6am on Saturday, some Tai Kok Tsui-bound lanes of Argyle Street between Sai Yeung Choi Street South and Nathan Road were closed to all traffic, according to the Transport Department. Many bus routes have been diverted.

The chaos began shortly after 7.30pm on Friday when a protester attempted to remove a police barricade and tried to enter Nathan Road near Wai Fung Plaza. An officer standing guard failed to secure the barricade.

A red flag was raised, warning protesters not to charge. At the same time, a police inspector started swinging his baton, hitting the back of a yellow tent and the tops of umbrellas that protesters were using to shield themselves.

At one point, protesters started removing barricades set up near Wai Fung Plaza, trying to break through to the northbound lane of Nathan Road. Police officers quickly pushed them back and used pepper spray to stop them.

For the first time since the Occupy Central action started, the police’s Public Relations Bureau gave a crowd estimate, saying at around 2.30am that 9,000 protesters were illegally occupying Mong Kok streets.

They did not say if this was at the peak of the protests or how they came up with the number. Earlier reports from the scene estimated there were more than a thousand protesters.

Police also issued a statement condemning protesters’ repeated charges at police cordons and attempts to occupy the north-bound lane of Nathan Road, the 3.6-kilometre-long main artery across Kowloon.

Michael Cheng, 23, said he sustained a head injury after being struck with a baton on Sai Yeung Choi Street South. He showed the Post what appeared to be blood stains on his shorts and towel.

"I and the police was separated by barriers, but the police just hit me. I pulled back and I felt my head was wet and then it [got] really painful," said Cheng, who declined hospital treatment.

Meanwhile, the arrest of Bronstein, an American freelance photographer based in Bangkok, was condemned by the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong. 

"No one wants to give you any trouble," a police officer had said to Bronstein, who has worked in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Myanmar, and was a finalist for a 2011 Pulitzer Prize. "I don't know the situation, how you ended up on the car, but ... the owner is pissed about his car."

The FCC said police - in one case with batons - had threatened other reporters who were covering the clashes. 

"These tactics are a flagrant violation of the media's right to report this unfolding story," the FCC statement said. "We demand the immediate release of Ms Bronstein and an end to such intimidation." Bronstein was reportedly released on bail this morning.

A University of Science and Technology graduate, surnamed Kwan, said he came to support Occupy Mong Kok after organisers said protesters there needed help. “If Mong Kok falls, Admiralty would be next,” he said.

Another protester, a mainland student from Polytechnic University, said he came out last night to support Hong Kong students’ fight for democracy.

“Hong Kong students are very brave to express their views. It’s different on the mainland. People here are so hot-blooded,” said the student, who gave his surname as Du.

The trouble in Mong Kok flared after officials said on Friday that they were looking for a way to secure a meeting – tentatively set for Tuesday at the Academy of Medicine in Aberdeen – between Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-Ngor and representatives of the Federation of Students.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has insisted the dialogue be based on the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s decision on the 2017 chief executive election that ruled out public nomination – which is essential to the protesters’ demands.

A source said yesterday the government was looking for ways to address the demands of students while maintaining the integrity of the NPC decision.

The Occupy Central civil disobedience movement had kicked off at dawn of September 28, following a week-long class boycott by students – all to protest against mainland China’s restrictive framework on election reform which essentially barred pan-democratic candidates to run in the 2017 chief executive race.

With additional reporting from Lana Lam, Tony Cheung and Fanny Fung