HONG KONG - Police on Saturday cleared dozens of protesters who had stormed Hong Kong’s government headquarters overnight, as a week-long protest against Beijing’s refusal to grant the city unfettered democracy turned angry.
Nearly 2,000 protesters remained camped outside the complex in the early evening as police, who have made more than 60 arrests, guarded the entrance equipped with riot helmets and shields.
Officers in the afternoon escorted the final 50 demonstrators from the building’s forecourt, hauling some away after they refused to leave after pushing into the grounds late Friday.
“We want to decide our future by ourselves,” said 23-year-old international relations student Gary Mak, telling AFP that he saying he had no plans to leave the protest area.
“It’s a good foundation for all Hong Kong people to fight for democracy.” The early hours had seen the tensest scenes yet in a string of recent protests, with riot police using pepper spray to clear out more than 100 people who had pushed into the grounds of the complex, some of them scaling a high fence.
Student groups have been spearheading a civil disobedience campaign this week in response to Beijing’s announcement last month that it will choose who can stand in elections for Hong Kong’s leader in 2017.
More than 2,000 protesters, many of them secondary school pupils and university students, had protested at headquarters on Friday, culminating with around 150 demonstrators breaking through police lines.
Police had dragged many away overnight and into the morning. On Saturday afternoon, they said 61 men and women aged between 17 and 58 had been arrested.
They were arrested for “forcible entry into government premises and unlawful assembly", a police statement said, adding they are detained for enquiries.
Protesters had used umbrellas to protect themselves from being pepper-sprayed by the police.
"This is an amazing turning point,” Suki Wong, a recent graduate who works as an accountant, told AFP.
“Hong Kongers usually just lay there and do nothing. This time we’re really making an impact.” Lu Yiu, 20, said his throat and nose burned from the pepper spray.
“Everyone was crying as we were pushed onto the street from the extreme use of force,” said Lu, who spent nine hours caught between police lines unable to use the toilet or sleep.