Online calls have been issued for barriers to be rebuilt at one of Hong Kong’s main democracy protest sites.
Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers in riot gear raided the site at Mong Kok early Friday morning, clearing barricades and tents, but failing to shift protesters, many of whom refuse to leave the area they have inhabited for the past 18 days.
They continue to block southbound traffic on Nathan Road—the densely populated Kowloon peninsula’s main artery.
Users of a massively popular local Internet forum, the Hong Kong Golden forum, defiantly called for barriers to be rebuilt in Mong Kok on Friday night.
Known as “golden jai” (golden boys), the forum users comprise the more radical arm of the city’s democracy movement, and were believed to be responsible for an attempt to reoccupy a major thoroughfare in the government and financial district on Hong Kong Island on Tuesday.
The ensuing melee on Lung Wo Road became one of the most vicious set pieces of the three-week long protests, with 45 people arrested, and a prominent political activist savagely assaulted by police officers unaware that a television news crew was filming every blow.
Allegations of police brutality and images of wounded protesters have in recent days reignited public support for the movement, which is demanding that the powerful head of the city’s government, known as the Chief Executive, be directly elected from a list of candidates freely put forward by the city’s 3.5 million voters.
The central government in Beijing is insisting that Hong Kong’s leader must be chosen from a small field of candidates screened by a pro-establishment electoral committee.
In a bid to break the deadlock, embattled Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Thursday he was willing to push ahead with “dialog” with the protesters alongside the restoration of “order in Hong Kong, according to the laws of Hong Kong, as quickly as we can.”
The government scrapped talks with student leaders just a week ago, claiming that dialog was “impossible.”
Its reluctant resumption of negotiations with the same cocksure youths—clad in jeans and t-shirts scrawled with political slogans—is a reflection of the growing impact of the three-week-long protest, which is now the most significant political movement in China since the 1989 Tiananmen occupation in Beijing.
Alex Chow Yong-kang, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, welcomed the government’s announcement of renewed talks, but told the South China Morning Post that “if [Leung] is offering to talk but at the same time ordering police to clear the scene violently, the people will know how sincere he is.”
The Chief Executive has drawn scorn for his insistence that open nomination of candidates for the 2017 election is not on the table.
“This shows that the Chief Executive doesn’t actually want to discuss anything,” said Kee Ma, a 60-year-old retired pharmacist camping out at the main protest site in Admiralty.
Other protesters are still upset about the heavy-handed police action in the last few days.
“The Chief Executive needs to apologize for police brutality,” said Mars Leung, 20, who, like many at the Admiralty camp, quit his job in order to participate in the protests full-time. “These statements just make people more angry.”