Hong Kong police charged, and used pepper-spray cannons, on peaceful pro-democracy protesters Tuesday night local time in a bid to clear streets in the Mong Kok district, location of one of city’s three protest areas.
Dozens of people, including firebrand lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, were arrested in clashes that took place in the vicinity of the luxurious Langham Place Hotel, popular with international visitors.
Colorful umbrellas, symbol of what has been termed the Umbrella Revolution, were hurriedly unfurled as mostly young protesters sought to protect themselves from pepper spray.
The atmosphere at the Mong Kok site, in the heart of the teeming Kowloon peninsula, had been tense for several hours after bailiffs dismantled barricades at a key intersection earlier in the day. The bailiffs were enforcing a civil injunction brought by transport companies objecting to the two-month occupation of the area by protesters, who are demanding free elections for this city of 7.2 million.
Scuffles broke out and arrests were made after police accused protesters of obstructing the court order and instructed the crowd — among them high school students still in school uniform — to disperse.
Police in riot gear then spent hours attempting to contain running groups of protesters, who attempted to erect fresh barricades in the densely populated narrow streets leading off Nathan Road, Kowloon’s main north-south thoroughfare. Pepper-spray cannon, mounted on mobile towers, were deployed and used liberally on the crowd.
After a tense standoff on Shantung Street, officers then charged, scattering demonstrators and arresting some who were unable to escape.
Just one block away, hundreds of tents where protesters have been sleeping for weeks remained untouched. A clearance action is expected Wednesday and is almost certain to lead to further clashes. For now, however, the mood on the streets is defiant.
“Police can’t take this all back,” 31-year-old protester Ryan Cheung told TIME. “They don’t have the right and they know they don’t have the right. They say it’s the law but that’s just an excuse.” Cheung said he would remain on the streets “as long as it goes on.”
Besides the Mong Kok site, protesters also occupy a significant portion of the downtown Admiralty district — the city’s largest protest area — with their tents pitched beneath the looming headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army and Central Government Offices. A small site in the Causeway Bay shopping district, popular with tourists, is also occupied.
—With reporting by Elizabeth Barber / Hong Kong