Hong Kong protests: Police arrest 'triad gang' members

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Media captionProtesters "feel they are under attack from thuggish elements, potentially triads", reports Carrie Gracie

Police in Hong Kong have arrested 19 people, including suspected members of triad gangs accused of attacking pro-democracy protesters.

The scuffles on Friday led to the postponement of talks between the demonstrators and the government.

Police officers deny claims that they have colluded with those who used violence against the demonstrators.

Activists are protesting against plans by China to vet election candidates and have been occupying parts of the city.

Hong Kong's leader earlier this week offered talks to defuse the situation in China's special administrative region.

But the clashes broke out as people apparently angry with the disruption caused by the protests tried to dismantle tents and barricades.

On Saturday morning the atmosphere on the streets was calm despite some tense scenes on the edges of the protests.

'Broken promise'

On Friday, the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which was invited to negotiations with the government, said in a statement it had "shelved" the talks. A time and place for the negotiations had never been confirmed.

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Image caption A protest supporter is led away by police
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The atmosphere on Saturday is reportedly calm, with many protesters resting on the streets
Image copyright AP
Image caption Opponents of the protest surrounded an activists' tent in Mong Kok

"The government allowed the mafia to attack peaceful Occupy participants. It has cut off the path to a dialogue, and should be responsible for the consequences," it said.

It was not clear whether the statement reflected the position of other groups involved in the protest.

Occupy Central leader Benny Tai told the BBC they were still only considering a boycott of the talks. However, he said police were not protecting the demonstrators against attacks by their opponents and this situation could not continue.

"It's very, very difficult to maintain any sense of dialogue if the government does not stop these things happening to peaceful protesters," he said.

There was no immediate response from the government to the postponement.

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Media captionOccupy Central leader, Benny Tai: "It is difficult to have dialogue if there is violence against peaceful protesters"

But at a news conference on Friday night, police gave their account of events.

They denied accusations by the protesters that they had acted in concert with forces trying to break up the protest.

They said that among the 19 people arrested eight had "triad backgrounds", referring to local criminal gangs.

Their very presence there is a reminder that not everyone in Hong Kong is on the side of the protesters, the BBC's Martin Patience in Hong Kong says.

At least some of the protesters' opponents appear to be local residents angered by the disruption.

"I don't support Occupy Central. We have to work and make money. Occupy is just a game," said a construction worker who gave his name as Mr Lee, quoted by AFP news agency.

"We Hong Kongers need to eat!" another said.

'Doomed to fail'

At the heart of the row is how Hong Kong elects its next leader. In August, Beijing imposed tight rules on nominations for candidates wanting to stand for election.

The protesters say this move means that the polls will fall short of the free elections they are seeking.

Several days into their week-long demonstrations, the protesters added the demand that Chief Executive CY Leung step down.

The central government in Beijing has thrown its full support behind Mr Leung, calling the protests illegal and "doomed to fail".

Hong Kong democracy timeline

  • 1997: UK gives Hong Kong back to China under a 1984 agreement giving it "a high degree of autonomy" for 50 years
  • 2004: China says it must approve any changes to Hong Kong's election laws
  • June-July 2014: Pro-democracy activists hold an unofficial referendum on political reform; both sides hold large rallies
  • 31 August 2014: China says it will allow direct elections in 2017 but will pre-approve candidates
  • 22 September 2014: Student groups launch a week-long boycott of classes
  • 28 September 2014: Occupy Central and student protests join forces and take over central Hong Kong
  • 2017: Direct elections for chief executive due to take place
  • 2047: Expiry of current agreements

Q&A: Hong Kong's democracy controversy