Hong Kong protests: Police use pepper spray in new clashes

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Media captionFootage of violent clashes between police and protesters, and a photographer being arrested

Fresh clashes have broken out between Hong Kong police and pro-democracy protesters, with officers using pepper spray and batons against the crowd.

Thousands of protesters gathered at Mong Kok district, reclaiming part of a protest site cleared by police earlier on Friday.

Police said they arrested 26 people for charges including assault.

A police operation earlier this week sparked outrage after a video emerged of officers beating a protester.

Government officials and student activists, who are leading the protests, have agreed to meet on Tuesday for talks, local media report.

The protesters are angry about China's restrictions on who can stand in Hong Kong's next leadership election in 2017.

Police retreat

Riot police cleared tents and barricades from a Mong Kok road early on Friday morning, saying it was needed to ease traffic congestion caused by the rallies, which have lasted three weeks.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The tense stand-off continued into the early hours of Saturday

Thousands of protesters had previously occupied the area but reports said there were just dozens left when police moved in.

However, the crowd of pro-democracy protesters swelled on Friday evening, and some activists attempted to break through police lines to re-occupy the road.

Violent scuffles erupted, with protesters using their umbrellas to defend themselves against pepper spray.

Eventually, police were forced to retreat from some of the roads, while there were reports of protesters rebuilding barricades.

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Media captionThe BBC's Celia Hatton reports on the tense stand-off

Police said that there were about 9,000 protesters at the site early on Saturday.

Fifteen police officers were injured in the clashes, police added.

Several protesters were seen being knocked to the ground during the scuffles, AP news agency reported.

Protest group Occupy Central issued a statement (in Chinese) saying that the clearance operations ordered by the government had "triggered a new wave of occupations and worsened relations between police and citizens".

The Mong Kok camp in Kowloon is an offshoot of the original protest site around government offices in Admiralty on Hong Kong Island.

Protesters and police are also congregating at Admiralty, although there have been no reports of clashes.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Protesters began rebuilding barricades after they retook some areas of Mong Kok
Image copyright AP
Image caption Many of the protesters are students and young people

Also on Friday, the Foreign Correspondents' Club issued a statement condemning the detention of Getty photographer Paula Bronstein, who stood on a car while covering the protests.

"The Hong Kong Police have also been threatening other journalists at the scene; one was told he would be beaten with a baton if he tried to cross the road.

"These tactics are a flagrant violation of the media's right to report this unfolding story," the group said.

Escalating tensions

Earlier on Friday, Alex Chow from the Federation of Students said both his group and the government had agreed to meet next Tuesday, in talks that would be broadcast live on radio, South China Morning Post reported.

Hong Kong leader CY Leung said on Thursday that the government was ready for talks, but China would not retract its decision to vet candidates for the 2017 elections.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Protesters opened their umbrellas as they pushed against police lines

The last time talks were scheduled they were cancelled by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who said it was impossible to have constructive dialogue while the occupation of city streets continued.

Protester numbers have dropped off since the start of the month, when tens of thousands were on the streets. But tensions escalated this week, with violent clashes as police cleared an underpass on Lung Wo Road near the chief executive's offices.

A video showing plainclothes police officers beating an unarmed protester, who is a member of the pro-democracy Civic Party, also sparked outrage.

Police said seven officers had been suspended pending an investigation.

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

Q&A: Hong Kong's democracy controversy