HONG KONG: Hong Kong police swooped at dawn to clear a democracy protest site Friday, tearing down tents and barricades hours after the city’s embattled leader reopened his offer of talks to end nearly three weeks of disruptive demonstrations.
Mongkok — the second biggest protest site after the main Admiralty district — has seen violent scuffles between demonstrators calling for full democracy in the southern Chinese city and pro-government groups.
The dawn raid, which was met with no resistance from demonstrators, comes as the city’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying renewed his offer for talks with student protesters a week after abruptly pulling out.
“It happened really fast,” said 20-year-old protester Prince Yung Chung-To. “A lot of police came at 5 o’clock shouting they were going to clear the area.”
“There was no fighting, it was all peaceful,” added another protester who did not wish to be named, gesturing at a couple of dozen demonstrators facing a line of riot police.
Police were seen tearing down tents, barricades and umbrellas — the defining symbol of the democracy movement — and piling them into the back of a van.
The Mongkok site is separate to the largest protest site outside government offices in the Admiralty district on the city’s main island, where tens of thousands have intermittently rallied, and battled with police.
Protesters are demanding free leadership elections for the semi-autonomous city, but China insists that candidates for a 2017 vote must be vetted by a committee loyal to Beijing.
Ongoing sit-ins for nearly three weeks at three major intersections have caused major disruption in a city usually known for its stability.
Protesters have called Beijing’s proposal a “fake democracy” and have vowed to remain on the streets until their demands are met, despite growing impatience among some Hong Kongers and attacks on their camps by pro-government thugs.