Scuffles as protest opponents try to tear down Hong Kong barricades

Updated 4:52 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
01:51 - Source: CNN
Police remove barricades from HK streets

Story highlights

NEW: Scuffles as people opposing occuption try to remove protest barricades

Democracy campaigners have been blocking key routes through the city

C.Y. Leung: Protests a "mass movement that has spun out of control"

Students write open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping

(CNN) —  

Rowdy scenes erupted at the main Occupy Central protest site in Hong Kong on Monday after hundreds of people opposing the pro-democracy occupation tried to tear down protest barricades.

Police formed a human chain to separate the protesters and people intent on breaking up their three-week long occupation of the Admiralty district, near the city’s financial center.

Dozens of men, some wearing surgical masks, were seen jostling with protesters and demanding that police remove the barricades and clear the roads, according to live images from local television station iCable.

They were heard screaming at protesters, accusing them of damaging their livelihoods. The television commentator identified them as taxi drivers, transport industry workers and other people who said they weren’t affiliated with any groups.

However, protesters could be heard yelling, “there are triads here,” a reference to criminal gangs in the city known for controlling smuggling, prostitution and illegal gambling rings.

Police on loudspeakers called for calm, and eventually convinced protesters to form a corridor to allow their opponents to leave.

Earlier, police started to remove barricades from protest sites in Admiralty and Mong Kok, but issued a statement saying they were moving “obstacles” to relieve traffic “not to clear the scene.”

Police “pushed back a couple of barricades, dismantling them,” said CNN’s Ivan Watson, from the Admiralty protest site. He said the protesters had responded by moving their tents closer to the barrier but the streets had remained peaceful.

READ: Who is C.Y. Leung?

Protest disruption

At the peak of the protests, tens of thousands of demonstrators crowded onto the streets demanding the right to be able to select candidates to run for chief executive in the 2017 election.

Protesters have been guarding barricades erected at a number of protest sites around the city, and for many nights slept in the open air on the asphalt before the arrival of reinforcements with tents.

Traffic in the other parts of the city has been clogged due to road closures, bus and tram cancellations and the need for cars to drive around the protest sites. Taxi drivers say their takings are down, and businesses claim the protests have cost them income.

While protest numbers dwindled toward the end of last week, they started building again over the weekend when protest leaders called for reinforcements after the government called off talks planned for Friday.

First live address

Over the weekend, Hong Kong Chief Executive C.Y. Leung made his first live address since protesters blocked key routes through the city. Speaking on local free-to-air station TVB, Leung said the protests were not a “revolution,” but a “mass movement that has spun out of control.”

He said student leaders had “almost zero chance” of pushing Beijing to change its stance on how Hong Kong’s leader is elected. He added he would not submit to the protesters’ demands that he resign, because his resignation “will not solve the problem.”

“It is because the students and other occupation protesters demand more than that. They want the Standing Committee to withdraw its August 31 decision. That is impossible,” he said.

Who’s who in the protests?

Beijing white paper

He was referring to the white paper issued by the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress stating that Hongkongers would be able to vote on their leader in 2017, but only from an approved shortlist of candidates.

In response to Leung’s comments, the three main groups leading the occupy campaign said it was the government that was out of control – “a government that fires tear-gas at unarmed citizens and unilaterally terminated dialogue with the students (sic).”

On September 28, police fired 87 tear gas rounds into the crowd after protesters failed to disperse. The move was seen as a miscalculation and only served to garner support for the protesters, who accused the government of heavy handedness and of stifling free speech.

The end of police trust?

Open letter to China

Over the weekend, student leaders from the protest group Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students wrote an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, urging him to closely consider their cause.

“There will only be more citizens, disillusioned with our corrupted institutions, marching and protesting, as long as no genuine democracy is practiced in this place,” they wrote.

The letter said the occupation was “definitely not a colour revolution or its alike, but rather a movement for democracy,” referring to the term “umbrella revolution” which was coined after protesters used umbrellas to shield themselves from pepper spray and tear gas.

View from China

Xi has not commented on the protests, but Chinese censors have been busy blocking reports of the movement, including access to the photo-sharing site Instagram.

A commentary published in China’s state-controlled People’s Daily on Monday, entitled “Why is the U.S. so keen on Color Revolutions?”, accused the U.S. of meddling in Hong Kong affairs.

“It is hardly likely that the U.S. will admit to manipulating the “Occupy Central” movement, just as it will not admit to manipulating other anti-China forces. It sees such activities as justified by “democracy,” “freedom,” “human rights” and other values,” it said.

It said the mainstream U.S. media had shown “exceptional interest” in “Occupy Central” and had tried to portray it as Hong Kong’s version of a “Color Revolution,” referring to pro-democracy movements around the world including the “Arab Spring” and Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution.”

“The U.S. may enjoy the sweet taste of interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, but on the issue of Hong Kong it stands little chance of overcoming the determination of the Chinese government to maintain stability and prosperity,” it added.

CNN’s Wilfred Chan and Anjali Tsui contributed to this report.