HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of people, some wearing surgical masks and armed with crowbars and cutting tools, tore down protest barriers in the heart of Hong Kong’s business district on Monday, scuffling with protesters who have occupied the streets for two weeks.
Angry taxi drivers opposed to the protests, which have seriously affected their business, also rallied at one barricaded road with a row of 12 taxis, demanding an end to the protest.
“Open the roads,” chanted a crowd, which included taxi and truck drivers. Taxi drivers have given protesters a deadline of Wednesday evening for all barricades to be lifted.
A truck with a crane on top attempted to remove barricades from one area until police eventually stopped it, but protesters complained that police did not act quickly enough.
Hundreds of police had earlier dismantled some barricades to relieve traffic congestion in the Asian financial hub, but said protesters could remain.
But within hours, anti-Occupy Central groups descended on the protest sites to try and disperse demonstrators, taking advantage of the earlier police action to remove barricades.
Scuffles quickly broke out, the first between demonstrators and anti-protest groups, with protesters believing the attacks were co-ordinated and may have involved triad Asian crime gangs.
“People from New Territories, blue ribbon (Beijing) supporters, triads and taxi drivers must be coordinated by some sort of people…the work is so well distributed. They went to different places in order to keep protesters busy,” said 49-year-old Mr Chan, who declined to give his full name.
Some of the anti-protest groups spoke Mandarin and could not speak Cantonese, suggesting they were not from Hong Kong.
“The group of people who look like gangsters, they start running toward them (protesters), and then one of them hit an old man with something hard, hit his head, so he’s injured over there right now,” said 20-year-old student protester and witness Winnie Locke.
Eventually police separated the two groups, forming a human barricade between the two, and an uneasy calm returned to the streets, but Hong Kong residents expect more flare-ups.
“We will stay and defend. We will stay here until the end,” said 25-year-old pro-democracy protester John, as he repaired damaged barriers.