HONG KONG (Reuters) - Three journalists were roughed up on Saturday evening in Hong Kong after being confronted by pro-government protesters holding a rally to oppose a four-week long “Occupy” movement of the financial hub’s streets by pro-democracy demonstrators.
Hong Kong has been roiled by a tenacious, student-led people’s movement demanding full democracy in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
But the protracted “Occupy Central” civil disobedience movement has also sparked clashes with police and has come under attack from sometimes hostile groups and sections of society who have condemned the disruptions to traffic and business, including blue-collar workers such as taxi and truck drivers.
In the latest sign of simmering tensions, more than 1,000 “anti-Occupy” supporters gathered to denounce the pro-democracy protesters close to the harbor front Star Ferry pier.
Many chanted slogans like “Give me back Hong Kong!” and “Clear the streets immediately!” during the evening rally.
While there were not direct clashes between the two camps on this occasion, small groups of protesters, many wearing blue ribbons as a symbol against the yellow ribbon-wearing student activists, directed their ire at journalists on the scene.
During heated exchanges, a cameraman and reporter for the city’s largest free-to-air television station, TVB, were surrounded and harassed by hostile crowds, some of whom pushed them around, tore off the reporter’s tie and snatched off a pair of glasses from the cameraman amid shouting and cursing.
The pair eventually had to be escorted from the melee by police officers.
A female reporter for Hong Kong’s public broadcaster, RTHK, Wong Wing-yin, was also kicked on the leg and body by blue ribbon supporters after being pushed to the ground. She was taken to hospital.
RTHK and its program staff union condemned the attack, while a spokesman said the station would take legal action.
Over the past month, leaders of the blue ribbon campaign have openly threatened the largely peaceful pro-democracy protesters with violence, leading in some cases to the forceful clearance of road barricades by angry mobs and street fights in the gritty district of Mong Kok, which has become the scene of some of the ugliest violence between the two sides.
Police say some of anti-Occupy attacks had been co-ordinated and involved triads or local organized criminal gangs.
The pro-democracy occupation movement, which has lasted beyond many people’s expectations despite intense government, police and public pressure, was sparked by Beijing’s decision in late August to rule out free elections for Hong Kong’s next leader in 2017, insisting instead that candidates be screened by a committee stacked with Beijing loyalists.
The turmoil presents the Chinese leadership with one of its biggest political challenges since it crushed pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Hong Kong’s leader, Leung Chun-ying, reiterated over the weekend that he would not resign after local business leader and politician James Tien said he should consider doing so.
China rules Hong Kong under a “one country, two systems” formula that accords the former British colony a degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China.
Hong Kong’s so-called people’s umbrella movement escalated late last month after police used tear gas, batons and pepper spray on unarmed demonstrators, many of whom held up nothing more than umbrellas to try to defend themselves.
Thousands of protesters remain camped out in a sea of tents on a major highway close to government headquarters in Admiralty and in lesser numbers in the shopping and densely populated districts of Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.
Additional reporting by Damir Sagolj and Farah Master; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn