HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong police arrested more than 30 people Tuesday as scuffles broke out when demonstrators tried to block authorities from clearing part of a pro-democracy protest site after nearly two months of rallies.
The arrests came as police, wearing helmets and with some holding batons, tried to disperse a crowd of around 100 protesters who had refused to leave after workers tore down barricades on a street in the district of Mongkok, where tensions have been running high.
Authorities said they arrested 32 people, including veteran lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, for contempt of court and assault on police officers.
The youngest confirmed arrested was a 14-year-old boy still in police detention by mid-evening, a lawyer working on behalf of the protesters told AFP.
Mongkok has been the scene of some of the most violent clashes between demonstrators and authorities since the sit-ins began in September.
“I am not going to move. I will let them arrest me,” 78-year-old Ng Pun-tuk, wearing a helmet, told AFP earlier as he joined the crowd of protesters watched by dozens of bailiffs and more than 100 police.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve democracy. I am prepared to go to jail,” said Ng.
The Mongkok site is the second to be partially cleared since the high court in the semi-autonomous Chinese city granted injunctions to let authorities start dismantling sections of the camps.
The court injunction for Tuesday only covered Argyle Street, a smaller side street in the area. Police are expected to begin clearing a larger portion of the protest area on busy Nathan Road on Wednesday morning, reports said.
The clashes come as public support wanes for the demonstrators demanding free leadership elections, and as the movement’s leaders are split on the next move.
Demonstrators clashed with police in Mongkok last month after they tried to reclaim part of a protest camp which had been cleared out by authorities. Officers used batons and pepper spray against protesters who shielded themselves with umbrellas, but were eventually forced into a partial retreat.
The student-led protests drew tens of thousands of people on some occasions initially, but the crowds have shrunk as the movement has struggled to maintain momentum.
China insists candidates for Hong Kong’s 2017 leadership vote must be vetted by a loyalist committee – an arrangement which protesters say will ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.
Fruitless talks between protesters and senior officials a month ago have led to an impasse, with students accusing the government of failing to make any meaningful offers.