Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs
Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers moved in early Wednesday to clear pro-democracy protesters out of a tunnel outside the city government headquarters in the latest escalation of tensions in a weekslong political crisis.
Officers, many of them in riot gear and wielding pepper spray, tore down barricades and concrete slabs around the underpass.
The operation came hours after a large group of protesters blockaded the tunnel, expanding their protest zone after being cleared out of some other streets.
They outnumbered the police officers, who later returned with reinforcements to clear the area.
Local television broadcast live footage of the operation and its aftermath, with officers taking away many protesters, their hands tied with plastic cuffs, and pushing others out to a nearby park.
The student-led protesters are now into their third week of occupying key parts of the city to pressure the Asian financial hub’s government over curbs recommended by Beijing on democratic reforms.
Positions on both sides have been hardening since the government called off negotiations last week, citing the unlikelihood of a constructive outcome given their sharp differences.
The protesters want Hong Kong’s deeply unpopular Beijing-backed leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to resign. They also want the Hong Kong government to drop plans for a pro-Beijing committee to screen candidates for the inaugural election to choose his replacement.
Leung has said there is “almost zero chance” that China’s government will change its rules for the election, promised for 2017.
The demonstrations have posed an unprecedented challenge to the government. Organizers say as many as 200,000 people thronged the streets for peaceful sit-ins after police used tear gas on Sept. 28 to disperse the unarmed protesters. The numbers have seen dwindled.
Police have chipped away at the protest zones in three areas across the city by removing barricades from the edges of the protest zones, signaling growing impatience with activists’ occupation of busy streets.
The clearance operation was the latest in a day of tit-for-tat actions between authorities and demonstrators that began Tuesday morning when police used chainsaws and sledgehammers to tear down barricades on a road on the edge of the protest zone.
Activists responded Tuesday evening by barricading the tunnel with tires, metal barricades, water-filled plastic safety barriers and concrete slabs taken from drainage ditches.
They used the slabs to form the shape of an umbrella on the road.
Umbrellas have become a symbol of the protests after demonstrators used them to protect themselves against pepper spray and tear gas used by police in an attempt to disperse them two weeks ago.