HUNDREDS of Hong Kong police officers, many armed with riot shields and wielding pepper spray, early yesterday morning dragged away dozens of protesters from an underpass after tearing down barricades and removing concrete slabs used as road blocks.
The police operation came hours after a large group of protesters blockaded the underpass, expanding their protest zone after being cleared from other streets. The protesters outnumbered the police officers, who later returned with reinforcements to clear the area.
The underpass borders the city government headquarters and is a short walk from the main protest zone straddling a highway on the opposite side of the complex. Demonstrators appeared to storm the tunnel in reaction to police attempts over the past two days to chip away at barricades on the edges of the sprawling protest zone.
Police said they had to disperse the protesters because they were disrupting public order and gathering illegally. They arrested 45 people during the clashes, in which four officers were reportedly injured.
“I have to stress here that even though protesters raised their hands in their air it does not mean it was a peaceful protest,” said police spokesman Tsui Wai-Hung.
He said some protesters kicked the officers and attacked them with umbrellas.
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok told the legislators that there were no alternatives but to use tear gas to prevent the demonstrators from further clashes with the police.
There were chaotic scenes during the clear-out operation as officers scuffled with demonstrators, wrestled some to the ground and forced others off the road. Police had to fire pepper spray during violent clashes with the protesters.
As for a video clip showing police officers who used “ inappropriate” force against an arrested person, Lai said the Complaints Against Police Office, which has received a relevant complaint, will investigate the incident in a fair manner and in accordance with established procedures. Police will also investigate the complain.
Meanwhile, Secretary for Constitutional & Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam said the government is liaising with the Federation of Students, one of the major organizers of the protests, to reopen talks on constitutional development through a middleman.