27 September 2014

NEWS: Hong Kong Police Clash With Student Protesters

HONG KONG—Student demonstrators clashed with police overnight after they scaled fences at the government's headquarters, following a week of pro-democracy protests.

At around 10:30 p.m. on Friday, about 150 protesters climbed over a fence at a site called Civic Square in an effort to get inside a plaza at government headquarters. Police arrested and carried away dozens of students and used pepper spray.

As thousands of onlookers watched from overhead walkways and chanted for the students not to be hurt, police erected metal barricades around the complex to prevent more protesters from joining.
Confrontation continued into Saturday's early morning hours and by 2 p.m., all protesters had been carried away from Civic Square by police.

Police arrested 13 people, including 12 men and one woman, aged 16 to 35, for assaulting police, disorderly conduct and forcible entry into government headquarters, police said early Saturday.

Among those arrested was 17-year-old Joshua Wong, leader of the student activist group Scholarism. The group, which played a role in the week's student protests, estimated that more than 1,000 students boycotted class to join the rally on Friday, while more students showed up after classes let out. Scholarism first came to Hong Kong's attention when it led protests that forced the city's chief executive to back down on a plan to promote Chinese national patriotism in local schools.

Mr. Wong is still being detained by police, while at least eight of the 13 people arrested have been released on bail, according to a lawyer who is assisting the protesters.

"We fully support the goal of students to enter Civic Square…We walk with the students to the very end," said Benny Tai, co-organizer of the pro-democracy group Occupy Central, outside the government's headquarters. Mr. Tai, who didn't join students last night, said police didn't need to use force.

Friday and Saturday's events give a sense of what could happen when Occupy Central occurs. Organizers are planning a campaign to disrupt Hong Kong's Central business district to press for greater democracy. The event is slated to happen on Oct. 1, the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Mr. Tai said he didn't want to predict what impact the showdown between police and students would have on the Occupy Central movement, as some people may feel more emboldened to take part, while others might be deterred by the possibility of violence.

The government said it was regrettable that protesters broke into Civic Square, causing injury to police officers. Kitty Choi Kit-yu, the city's director of administration, said about 10 security personnel, five police officers and a government staff member were injured.

She said the government has withdrawn approvals for three public events that were scheduled to be held Sunday near government headquarters, in an effort to ensure public safety.

Overnight and into Saturday morning, Hongkongers came to the protest site to show their support for the young demonstrators.

Members of Hong Kong's democracy movement want a more open election for the city's chief executive in 2017. In August, China's government ruled that candidates for Hong Kong's top job need to be approved by a committee that is heavily loyal to Beijing. Pro-democracy advocates pushed in vain for a public-nomination process.

Students in the city kicked off a week of class boycotts on Monday at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The first four days of action were led by university-level students, but many secondary-school students joined the boycott on Friday.