HONG KONG – Hong Kong authorities cleared more street barricades from a pro-democracy protest camp in a volatile district Wednesday, part of a two-day operation in which police arrested more than 100 people, including key student leaders.
Police in helmets swiftly cleared obstructions from the 2-month-old protest site in Mong Kok, across Victoria Harbor from the main occupied area in the financial district. Some officers used shears to cut apart plastic ties holding together metal barricades while others tore down tents and canopies and carried away other objects, including a sofa. Ranks of officers, some equipped with backpack pepper sprayers, advanced down the street.
Police said 116 people have been arrested for offences including unlawful assembly and assaulting or obstructing police. One man was held for possessing offensive weapons including an axe, hammer and crowbar. Among those arrested were student leaders Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old head of the Scholarism group, and Lester Shum, deputy secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, according to the groups' Facebook pages.
The arrests of Wong and Shum could reinvigorate the protest movement, which has been losing steam as the Hong Kong government's apparent strategy of waiting out the student-led protesters left them with few options. Organizers estimated that as many as 200,000 people took to the semiautonomous Chinese city's streets at the start of the protests, but numbers have since dwindled sharply, along with public support.
The protesters are demanding that Hong Kong's government scrap a plan mandated by China's Communist leaders to use a panel of Beijing-friendly elites to screen candidates for top leader in inaugural 2017 elections.
Local media reports said 4,000 officers were on hand to enforce the court injunction granted to taxi drivers to remove obstructions from a 1,475-foot stretch of Nathan Road, a busy artery in Kowloon, where the blue-collar Mong Kok district is located.
An effort Tuesday by authorities working under a separate court order to clear a smaller, adjacent part of the protest site descended into chaos as protesters scuffled with police for hours into the evening. Twenty officers were hurt in the scuffles, police said.
Wong and Shum were among those arrested for storming a courtyard next to government headquarters on the evening of Sept. 26. Their prolonged detentions helped spark the ongoing protest movement by angering other young supporters, who poured into the streets two days later to take over busy thoroughfares in Mong Kok and two other districts across the city.