HK protesters demand protection
HONG KONG: Protest leaders threatened to cancel scheduled talks with the Hong Kong government on Friday after opponents of pro-democracy demonstrations destroyed a rally site and drove away protesters in Mong Kok.
In a joint statement, organisers condemned the attacks and said that if the government does not immediately "prevent the organised attacks on supporters of the Occupy movement, the students will call off dialogue on political reform with the government".
Protest leader Benny Tai urged activists to leave Mong Kok, saying lives could be at risk. In Causeway Bay, where more confrontations took place, a group trying to reclaim a main road described themselves as "ordinary citizens".
“We see that violent thugs are maliciously attacking demonstrators,” said Tai, founder of the Occupy Central With Love and Peace group. “We urge citizens who are participating in the Occupy movement to leave Mong Kok immediately and come to rally in Admiralty, so that we can support each other.”
Causeway Bay and Mong Kok - a working-class area across the harbour in Kowloon - are popular shopping districts. The centrally located Admiralty has been the biggest stronghold for the activists, who have surrounded the government headquarters there.
The pro-democracy demonstrations have paralysed parts of central Hong Kong this week. Demonstrators are demanding public nomination of candidates for the 2017 leadership election. The government in Beijing, while promising "universal suffrage", is retaining the right to have a special committee nominate candidates for the Chief Executive post.
Black-shirted men in masks beat up a man who tried to stop them from removing barricades from a pro-democracy protest area in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on Friday. (AFP Photo)
The protesters also want the resignation of the current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
Yu Chun-tung, a 27-year-old protester, said the attack on the demonstrators was frightening. "They came in a large group in the afternoon and tore down all our tents and ran at us trying to drive us away. That was when police came and put a cordon line between us and them to protect us."
On both sides of the cordon line, heaving masses of people jostled and engaged in vicious shouting matches as bystanders worked to prevent violence from breaking out.
Protesters and sympathetic bystanders shouted, "We support the students!" while opponents to the protests shouted, "Pack up! Go home! Get out of Mong Kok!"
Those opposed to the rally were visibly older than the protesters, with even some elderly residents joining in to condemn the students for their action.
Protest opponent Ronald To told dpa: "We need to eat, we need to get to work. What they are doing is illegal and has gone on for too long. Don't our voices count too? Well we don't agree with them and they need to get off our streets."
Many of the original protesters had fled the site for fear of violence, according to organisers, but more than a hundred others have since arrived in support of the cause.
Leung on Thursday appointed his chief secretary to negotiate with the protesters on behalf of the government. He also said he would not step down.
Clashes between the two protest camps broke out on Friday at Causeway Bay after an organised group of about 30 masked men removing barricades there.
Student protesters shouted at those opposing the demonstrations, accusing them of being hired by the government or Beijing, the South China Morning Post reported, adding that the police turnout was sparse as the battlelines grew increasingly blurred.
Earlier on Friday, pro-democracy demonstrators stopped some civil servants from entering official buildings, and all visits to central government offices (CGO) were postponed or cancelled.Security staff jostled with protesters as they tried to force open barricades to the government headquarters.
"Staff working in the CGO ... should work in accordance with the contingency plans of their respective bureaus or departments," a government statement said.
A group of protesters blocked one of the few remaining east-west crossings on Hong Kong Island early Friday, reducing the carriageway on Lung Wo Road to two lanes, according to local media reports.Pan-democratic lawmakers held a press conference to condemn the attacks on protesters and called on police to step up efforts to protect them.
"If police do not effectively intervene to break up the clashes this sets a dangerous precedent ... that if people are unhappy with protesters they can attack them with impunity," said Cyd Ho, vice-chairwoman of the Labour Party.