Pro-democracy protesters have clashed with police as they tried to surround Hong Kong government headquarters in an attempt to revitalise the movement for democratic reforms after camping out on the streets for more than two months.
Repeating scenes that have become familiar since the movement began in late September, protesters carrying umbrellas –which have become symbols of the pro-democracy movement – battled police armed with pepper spray, batons and riot shields.
Student leaders told a big crowd on Sunday night at the main protest site outside government headquarters that they would escalate their campaign, and hundreds of protesters pushed past police lines on the other side of the complex from the protest site.
They blocked traffic on a main road, but were stopped by police barricades from going down a side road to chief executive Leung Chun-Ying’s office.
The protesters, many wearing surgical masks, hard hats and safety goggles and chanting “I want true democracy”, said they wanted to occupy the road to prevent Mr Leung and other government officials from getting to work in the morning.
At one point, police charged the crowd, pushing demonstrators back with pepper spray and batons after some protesters started pelting them with water bottles and other objects. Police later fell back, letting demonstrators re-occupy the road. At dawn, police charged again and cleared the protesters from some areas around the government headquarters.
Police said 40 protesters had been arrested, adding that authorities would not let the road, a major thoroughfare, remain blocked.
Protesters said they were taking action to force a response from Hong Kong’s government, which has made little effort to address their demands that it scrap a plan by China’s communist leaders to use a panel of Beijing-friendly elites to screen candidates for Hong Kong’s leader in inaugural 2017 elections.
Hundreds remain entrenched in the main protest site, building tents, work tables and other infrastructure, even as energy has diminished on the streets since the first surge of demonstrations in late September. Numbers typically dwindle in the daytime, with many protesters going to work or school before returning in the evenings.
Authorities last week mounted an aggressive operation to clear out the protest camp on the busy streets of Hong Kong’s crowded Mong Kok district, one of three protest zones around the semi-autonomous city.
“The action was aimed at paralysing the government’s operation,” said Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.
“The government has been stalling ... and we believe we need to focus pressure on the government headquarters, the symbol of the government’s power.”
The federation is one of two student groups that have played important roles in organising the protest movement in the former British colony.
Mr Leung later warned activists not to come back to the protest site later yesterday.