Fresh clashes broke out at Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests early today with riot police using batons and pepper spray to fight back demonstrators, as student leaders reopened the door to talks with the government.
With the protest movement entering its seventh night, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers gathered for a peace rally in the downtown Admiralty district near the government headquarters chanting “Peace! Anti-violence!” and singing democracy anthems.
But across the harbour in the city’s densely packed Mong Kok district tensions flared anew, as crowds of baying protesters surrounded police, accusing them of cooperating with gangsters, according to AFP reporters at the scene. Police responded with pepper spray.
Pro-democracy protesters have taken to Hong Kong’s streets all week to demand the right to nominate who can run as their next leader in 2017 elections. Beijing insists only candidates it has approved will be able to stand. Student leaders said early today that they would meet the government if certain conditions were met, having scrapped planned negotiations the previous day over anger at police actions in earlier clashes.
In Mong Kok, a working-class district of shops and residences that was also the site of ugly scenes Friday, furious protesters claimed anti-democracy agitators from the city’s triad mobs were being arrested — only to be released back into the crowds again. “The police have been cooperating with gangsters,” said David Chan, a 22-year-old student.
“We have witnessed the police letting go of the gangsters. That’s why the peaceful protesters are so angry, We have no trust in them any more.” Hong Kong’s main student union, HKFS, said in a statement: “The government should investigate why the police were so lax in enforcement, accusations of helping criminals and to give an explanation to the public as soon as possible.”
It came after two of the city’s busiest shopping districts descended into chaos on Friday as opponents, some of them waving Chinese flags, clashed with protesters, tearing down their tents and barricades. The incidents led to accusations that the police failed to protect the demonstrators from the opposing crowds and speculation authorities had hired paid thugs to break up the protests.
“As long as the government responds to the above, the students are willing to talk again,” the HKFS said.