Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong slammed the government for a "lack of sincerity" on Friday after police dismantled one of the region’s main protest sites, tearing down barricades in an early-morning raid.
Activists said the move would only create obstacles in upcoming talks with government officials, coming as it did less than a day after Hong Kong’s current representative, C.Y. Leung, said discussions could begin as early as next week.
"Police removed barricades in Mong Kok 15 hours after [chief executive] Leung Chun-ying said engaging in dialogue didn’t mean the government would not clear the protest sites," one of the main organizing groups, Occupy Central with Love and Peace, said in a statement. "We think it amounts to an open insult to the intelligence of Hong Kong people."
"If [the government] continues to clear protest sites gradually under the disguise of removing barricades, it would only provoke more people to take to streets," Occupy Central wrote.
Hundreds of police moved in on the site at 7:00 AM without warning. Although they cleared the area of the metal barriers, bamboo poles, and recycling bins protesters had been using to block a major intersection, about 30 activists remained on the ground refusing to move.
The operation is the third in recent weeks that have seen police descending on protest sites in the early morning, when crowds are at their smallest, but none of the raids have prevented protesters from returning to the area later in the evening and rebuilding their camps.
The South China Morning Post reports:
[A] group of at least 300 protesters regrouped and staged a sit-in on the southbound lane of Nathan Road between Argyle Street and Shantung Street, which remained closed to traffic.
Civic Passion founder Wong Yeung-tat said the media had misreported the police operation in Mong Kok this morning.
"Police were not trying to shrink our protest zone, but were trying to kick us out," he said.
"Thankfully, more protesters came this morning so we managed to hold our ground."
The previous crackdown, which occurred on Wednesday, saw the most violent police response yet in the weeks of protests as a group of plainclothes officers were recorded on camera beating a prominent activist and Civic Party member, Ken Tsang, who lay handcuffed on the ground.
A police spokesman said the seven officers involved in the beating have been suspended, as investigators wait to take Tsang’s testimony.
On Friday, the protesters who returned to Mong Kok after it was cleared said they planned to rebuild their barricades again, as occupying the major business and government districts gives the movement leverage in the upcoming talks.
Activists are demanding free elections in 2017, when they will vote on a new chief executive for the region. Earlier this year, China announced that it would only allow Hong Kong to vote on a representative from a list of candidates who have been pre-approved by a council staffed largely by government loyalists.
Josh Chu, a 34-year-old part-time student, told the Guardian, "Of course we want to occupy more roads, because this will give us more strength in negotiations with the government... we do whatever we can for the improvement of democracy in Hong Kong. We don’t know what the consequences will be, but we’ll try our best."