Hong Kong police arrest activists after Mong Kok scuffles

image source, Getty Images
image captionPolice, who were on standby during the operation, were later called in and detained activists

Police in Hong Kong have detained at least 10 pro-democracy activists after scuffles broke out as bailiffs dismantled a protest site.

Authorities were acting on a court order to clear the camp in Mong Kok, the site of previous violent clashes.

Protesters initially did not resist as workers removed barricades, but later a small group refused to leave.

The activists have been on the streets since early October, demanding a free choice of leader in the 2017 election.

China, however, says the pool of candidates that people in Hong Kong will vote on will be selected by a Beijing-backed committee.

Protesters originally numbered in the tens of thousands when the Hong Kong unrest first began in October, but have since fallen to a few hundred, while attempts by both sides to reach a compromise have made little progress.

'Dealt with as rubbish'

The operation on Tuesday was aimed at the activist camp around Argyle Street and Nathan Road, a busy commercial and tourist district.

image source, Reuters
image captionBailiffs are enforcing a court order after local residents and businesses complained about disruption
image source, AFP
image captionMong Kok has been the site of violent clashes in earlier weeks but Tuesday's operation began peacefully

"Occupiers should pack up and leave now. Otherwise, [their belongings] would be dealt with as disposed items and rubbish," said Maggie Chan, lawyer for the bus company that obtained the injunction to clear the street according to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.

Some protesters were heard shouting "I want true elections" and "we want real suffrage" in response.

A few protesters held up three fingers, the Post said. The gesture appears in the Hunger Games film series as a symbol of resistance against an authoritarian regime and has become popular with anti-government protesters in Thailand.

A team of about 20 court bailiffs started clearing the camp around 10:30 local time (02:30 GMT), about an hour after warning protestors to clear the site.

Workers in white hard hats and gloves were then seen moving wooden pallets and other materials so that they could be taken away in lorries.

The scuffles came as police tried to disperse a crowd of about 100 activists who refused to leave, the AFP news agency said. The Associated Press said activists were delaying the removal by asking for more time to pack up their tents.

At least 10 people, including lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, were put into a police vehicle and taken away.

image source, Getty Images
image captionThe protester numbers have dwindled but a hard-core group remains on the streets

Last week there was little resistance from the protesters as bailiffs cleared barricades from the camp in Admiralty, near government headquarters.

However, operations to clear and contain camps in recent weeks have sometimes led to clashes.

An attempt by police to clear an underpass near Admiralty in October led to accusations that officers had used excessive violence, after a video emerged of officers apparently beating a protester.

Hong Kong and the Beijing government say the protests are illegal, and there is growing public frustration with the disruption to traffic and business.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who is in Beijing, said on Tuesday that the police would give full support to bailiffs during the operation.

"If the road can be cleared, it would be a relief to those members of the public and businesses that have been affected for almost two months," she told reporters.

She also said the government was open to resuming dialogue with the Federation of Students, one of the main groups leading the activist movement.

Previous attempts at reaching an agreement between the Hong Kong government and protesters did not make any progress.

Hong Kong democracy timeline

  • 1984: Britain and China sign an agreement where Hong Kong is guaranteed "a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" for 50 years following the handover in 1997.
  • June-July 2014: Pro-democracy activists hold an unofficial referendum on political reform and a large rally. This is followed by protests by pro-Beijing activists.
  • 31 August 2014: China says it will allow direct elections in 2017, but voters will only be able to choose from a list of pre-approved candidates. Activists stage protests.
  • 22 September 2014: Student groups launch a week-long boycott of classes in protest.
  • 28 September 2014: Occupy Central and student protests join forces and take over central Hong Kong.
  • October 2014: Chief Executive CY Leung refuses demands for his resignation. Discussions between government and student leaders go nowhere. High court begins granting injunctions to clear protest sites.
  • 15 November 2014: Student leaders' attempt to travel to Beijing fails.
  • 18 November 2014: Bailiffs move in to clear a portion of the Admiralty protest site.
  • 2017: Direct elections for chief executive due to take place

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