An angry crowd opposed to pro-democracy protests that have paralysed parts of Hong Kong for more than two weeks have charged barricades and clashed with police.
Scuffles broke out as about two dozen men wearing surgical masks to hide their faces tried to remove the metal barricades that protesters have set up to block off main roads near the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district.
Several hundred people then rushed the barricades, demanding the reopening of the road. They also chanted “Occupy Central is illegal,” referring to one of the names for the pro-democracy movement that has swept Hong Kong.
Taxi drivers joined in, some driving their cabs up to the barricades and leaning on their horns.
A line of police officers held the crowd back, keeping them separated from the protesters.
Tensions eased later as most of the crowd dispersed. Police took away some masked men inside the protest zone who tried to pick fights and later said they arrested three men, aged 18 to 47, on suspicion of assault and carrying weapons.
Kevin Ng, a college student who was at the scene and saw the scuffles, said: “We suspect they’re Triad members, but it’s hard to say. What other kind of group would organize themselves to come attack us?”
Allegations have surfaced in the past few weeks that some people were being paid to disrupt the protests and that the authorities had enlisted the help of Triad gangs linked to the Government through corruption. A local radio station broadcast an audio clip on Monday in which a man, said to be a taxi driver, discussed a payment of HK$2,000 to take part in the disturbances.