Hong Kong authorities cleared a main protest camp Wednesday and arrested two leaders of the Occupy Central movement, which is calling for greater democracy in the semiautonomous Chinese territory.
Police hauled away several protesters, including student leaders Lester Shum and Joshua Wong, during the several-hour operation to clear barricades from a road in the Mong Kok district.
Scuffles broke out when some protesters tried to prevent workers from tearing down the barricades on a major thoroughfare.
Avery Ng Man-yuen, vice chairman of League of Social Democrats (LSD), tells VOA he and other protesters believe the police violated the court injunction during the enforcement process.
“They did not follow the procedure, but using the injunction as an excuse to clear the site," he said. "I have repeatedly asked the police to explain some questions, such as, is the bailiff there when they were enforcing injunction? He replied he didn't know. The injunction mentioned clearing obstacles, does that include protesters? He didn’t reply.”
The workers, who wore red baseball caps and "I Love Hong Kong" T-shirts, were backed by thousands of police. After the barricades and tents were removed, the highway reopened to traffic.
The workers and police initially faced resistance from demonstrators, who chanted for "full democracy" in the city. Police dragged away and arrested many protesters who refused to move.
One demonstrator, who identified himself as Roland, said he didn’t know who the workers were. "Probably they are hired by the authorities to clear these [protest sites]. ... But I would like to insist that the Occupied zone is the expression of people’s voice. The government shouldn’t do this."
Charges of police brutality
Demonstrations have blocked some Hong Kong’s streets since the pro-democracy protests began in late September.
In October, Mong Kok was the site of violent clashes between protesters and thugs who attacked them. Police later said the attackers were members of local criminal gangs.
Pa Sah, who has joined in the daily demonstrations, alleged there has been "brutality and damage to the protesters."
"There have been a lot of cases where the police have attacked and injured protesters," the demonstrator said. "The police brutality is very apparent."
It was the third time authorities have cleared protest sites since Hong Kong's High Court approved the actions earlier this month. On Tuesday, police said they arrested 116 people during an operation to clear another part of Mong Kok.
Protesters remain camped out at two other sites near government headquarters in the Admiralty neighborhood and in the popular shopping district of Causeway Bay.
Public split over protests
Public opinion in Hong Kong has been divided over the protests. Many residents say the demonstrations, which have blocked traffic and damaged sales at nearby shops and stores, have taken an economic toll on the city. Protest leadership has become increasingly split between moderate and more extreme activists who demand radical action.
While the protesters may be divided, the government’s position is clear, Pa Sha said.
"I think the government is trying to arrest the leaders to try to deal with the movement once and for all, trying to show a very hard-line stance against the movement."
The demonstrators have been calling for fully democratic elections in 2017. They took to the streets after China ruled in August that all candidates for Hong Kong's chief executive must first be approved by a committee that is stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists.
VOA's Shannon Van Sant contributed to this report from Beijing.