Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators retook a site in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok district early Saturday after it had been cleared by police only hours earlier. Officers in riot gear used batons and pepper spray against umbrella-wielding protesters. The officers eventually retreated, after the crowd in the area reportedly swelled to 9,000.
Police made 26 arrests and 15 officers were reportedly injured Friday night. Demonstrators have now reoccupied Mong Kok’s busy Nathan Road in both directions, and are rebuilding barricades to replace those removed by police.
Hong Kong Police Commissioner Andy Tsang condemned recent events as he made his first statement in weeks Saturday, according to the South China Morning Post. “Police strongly condemn those who participated in the unlawful assembly, charged police cordons and illegally occupied major roads in Mong Kok earlier this morning and last night. Such behaviors are neither peaceful nor nonviolent,” he said.
“The police have lost control of the situation. They’ve lost their minds,” protester Peter Yuen told Agence France-Presse. “We’ve come here peacefully, to peacefully protest for our future.”
Among those arrested Friday was award-winning U.S. photojournalist Paula Bronstein, who was on assignment for Getty Images, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Images on social media showed some demonstrators being doused in pepper spray and others with bleeding wounds on their heads.
I'm told the man is HK journalist Ronson Chan. Sequence of photos as police pepper sprayed him while he was reporting pic.twitter.com/1vNpoupGxs
â€” Alex Ogle (@Alex_Ogle) October 18, 2014
Occupy Central, one of the groups leading the protests, issued a statement saying the police operations to clear demonstrators had “triggered a new wave of occupations and worsened relations between police and citizens.”
The recent unrest threatens to derail talks between student protest groups and Hong Kong’s government, which city Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying proposed Thursday.
Earlier Friday, Alex Chow of the Federation of Students said talks between the government and his group were scheduled to begin Tuesday, BBC News reported.
Demonstrators are seeking universal suffrage for the 2017 election of the city’s chief executive. China’s government has said any candidate for the post must be approved by Beijing, a demand the protesters reject.