Hong Kong police arrest 45 in clashes

Story highlights

  • Police arrest 37 men, eight women in the overnight hours
  • Police use pepper spray and wrestle protesters to ground
  • Protesters' surprising seizure of a key road is short-lived
  • Protesters also lose their occupation of the chief executive office
Dozens of people were arrested in clashes Tuesday night as Hong Kong police moved to stop protesters from re-occupying a major road outside the government headquarters.
Pro-democracy protesters repelled the first police attempt to move them on, encircling officers who fired pepper spray before retreating from Lung Wo Road, in the Admiralty district, the epicenter of the weekslong standoff between protesters and police.
"Police returned later in the evening and successfully cleared the protesters and their barricades," reported CNN's Pamela Boykoff.
Since late September, protesters have been blocking major roads in an attempt to force the government to give residents a greater say in who leads the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China.
While the demonstrations has been praised as an example of organized, civil disobedience, patience has been strained by the prolonged nature of the protest and its chaotic effect on local traffic and businesses. A total of 45 people -- 37 men and eight women -- were arrested on Tuesday for alleged unlawful assembly and obstructing police officers, police said.
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During Tuesday night's attempted takeover of Lung Wo road, demonstrators declared they were "not afraid of anything."
"Ask them if they're afraid of bullets. They're not. This is our last chance. We know we're most likely going to fail, but we have to try," said 62-year-old demonstrator Lo Cheong.
Retaking Lung Wo road was necessary "to protect the protesters," said a demonstrator named Bon.
In a statement released on Wednesday morning, police appealed to protesters in the area to "stay calm and restrained." "Protestors advancing against Police cordon line even with their arms raised is not a peaceful act," the statement said.
By dawn, morning rush-hour traffic was flowing as normal. The contingent of demonstrators relocated to a park near the government offices, to a green space that they're occupying with tents.
It was the latest in a series of clashes between protesters and police, and followed a police operation earlier in the day to clear barricades from Queensway, a road adjacent to the main Admiralty protest site.
Dozens of officers cut through plastic ties strapping together metal fences, and hauled away signs, wooden pallets and recycling boxes which had been stacked to block access to the site.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.