HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong riot police arrested 80 pro-democracy protesters on Tuesday in running clashes after several thousand demonstrators erected street barricades following clearance of part of a protest hotspot.
Several thousand police were deployed after a court ordered the reopening of a blocked street in the working-class district of Mong Kok, scene of some of the most violent confrontations in the two-month long “Occupy Central” civil disobedience campaign.
They met with little initial resistance but protesters regrouped in the evening to block traffic on side streets in the bustling Kowloon district across the harbor from the main protest site at Admiralty on Hong Kong island.
Riot and tactical unit police rebuffed the crowds with pepper spray, batons and direct force, making 80 arrests according to a police statement. Protest leaders or perceived ring leaders chased down, wrestled to the ground, zip-tied and bundled into waiting vans.
“They want to arrest key people on the frontline to sap the resistance of the movement, but they will fail,” said Vincent Man, a 26-year-old activist in a blue T-shirt and bandana.
“We will keep fighting and win new streets to expand the occupation zone,” he added. “Tomorrow will be another big battle,” he said, referring to a second court order to clear away a major protest encampment on a major road in Mong Kok.
“We won’t allow them to do that. Many people will come out.”
Police are taking no chances, and have readied three to four thousand officers for the task, according to media reports.
Workers had earlier moved wooden blockades from the road after demonstrators dismantled tents and packed up their belongings. The injunction was granted to a bus company that said the blockade had hurt business.
Some protesters heckled and held up yellow banners demanding Beijing allow full democracy in the global financial hub.
“Even if they clear this place, our will to fight for genuine universal suffrage hasn’t changed ... it will only inspire people to think of other ways to continue this movement,” said protester Ken Chu, clad in a bright yellow safety helmet and a gas mask.
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, who has called the protests illegal, urged activists to go home.
The restiveness in Mong Kok contrasts with a largely peaceful partial clearance of the largest protest site next to government buildings in Admiralty last week.
The pro-democracy movement is showing signs of splintering, with radical voices calling for escalated action after nearly two months of stalemate in which Hong Kong and Chinese leaders have refused the protesters’ demands for a free election with open nominations for Hong Kong’s next leader in 2017.
Mong Kok has been a flashpoint for street brawls between students and mobs intent on breaking up the prolonged protests that have posed a thorny political challenge for China’s Communist Party leaders.
In August, Beijing offered Hong Kong people the chance to vote for their own leader in 2017, but said only two to three candidates could run after getting majority backing from a 1200-person “nominating committee” stacked with Beijing loyalists.
More than 100,000 people took to the streets at the peak of the protests but numbers have dropped to a few hundred scattered in tents over three main sites amid dwindling public support.
Additional reporting by Diana Chan, Stefanie McIntyre, Farah Master and Bobby Yip; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Tom Heneghan