A mass of Hong Kong police in riot gear swept a major Occupy Central protest site on Wednesday, breaking down barricades and tents and arresting over a hundred people, including some of the more prominent activists in the pro-democracy movement that emerged over the summer.
Among those taken into custody was Joshua Wong, the student leader hailed by TIME in October as "the voice of a generation."
Hundreds of officers descended on a key protest zone in the busy commercial and residential district of Mong Kok, where organizers with Occupy Central have held operations for months. According to Reuters, the crackdown "could be a turning point in the fight to wrest greater political freedom from Beijing's control."
Mong Kok has been a flashpoint for clashes between students and mobs intent on breaking up the protests, which have posed one of the biggest challenges to China's Communist Party leaders since the crushing of student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing in 1989.
But the move by police was not able to keep protesters from returning directly to the same site as soon as they could.
The New York Times reports:
In a pattern seen again and again during these protests, the police action during the day was countered by a surge of boisterous demonstrators after darkness fell. Hundreds of people shouted “I want true universal suffrage” in Cantonese, with their chants echoing off the tall buildings in the area, amplifying their voices. Several people were seen being arrested by police officers.
"They’ve already cleared the site; I have nowhere else to go,” said Viktor Chu, 26, a leasing officer who was wearing a face mask and safety goggles as he stood with the crowd of protesters on Shantung Street. “I must come out and show my opinion."
Also on Wednesday, seven Hong Kong officers were arrested for their part in the beating of a peaceful protester, in a violent encounter in October that went viral in the news and on social media after security footage captured the incident.
The officers were arrested on "assault occasioning actual bodily harm," a police statement said.
Demonstrations in Hong Kong began in September. China announced that it would only allow Hong Kong to vote on a leader for the semi-autonomous region from a list of candidates who have been pre-approved by a council staffed largely by government loyalists. Activists are demanding true suffrage for the upcoming elections, which will take place in 2017.