Hong Kong police yesterday arrested 80 people as they moved to clear a city street that had been blocked by Occupy Central demonstrators for nearly two months.
Officers in helmets, with some carrying batons, faced off against dozens of protesters at the site in Mong Kok district, the scene of some of the most violent clashes since the sit-ins began at three separate intersections in the city on September 28.
A police spokeswoman said 80 people had been arrested as of last night. They were detained for criminal contempt of a court order requiring the clearing of the street, for assaulting police and for unlawful assembly.
The arrests began earlier in the day when some protesters refused to leave after workers tore down their barricades on Argyle Street in Mong Kok. Workers in hard hats and gloves backed by bailiffs and police spent most of the day clearing a 50-meter stretch of the street covered by the court order granted to a minibus company that complained its business had been hurt.
Last night, traffic began flowing on the street for the first time in two months but tensions rose as protesters scuffled with police on a side street.
Gritty, working-class Mong Kok is home to a more unruly and aggressive crowd compared with the main protest site next to government headquarters, where protesters last week put up little resistance to a separate court order to remove barricades.
Hong Kong authorities are expected today to enforce a second restraining order covering the rest of the Mong Kok site.
Protesters initially put up no resistance as workers started tearing down barriers and moving wooden pallets into the middle of an intersection to be taken away.
But as the authorities pushed down Argyle Street to remove tents and other debris, they faced defiance from protesters, who used delaying tactics.
The barricade clearances come at a critical phase for the illegal Occupy movement, with student leaders running out of options, and public support dwindling.
More than 80 percent of 513 people surveyed last week by Hong Kong University said the protesters should go home.
A separate poll by the Chinese University of Hong Kong found about two-thirds of 1,030 respondents felt the same way.