Protesters celebrate following a standoff with police
Hong Kong - AFP
Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters clashed with police late Tuesday as they tried to occupy a main road and tunnel, with several demonstrators saying they were pepper sprayed.
Dozens of police with helmets and riot shields tried to push back hundreds of protesters at one end of the tunnel, television footage showed.
One or two were hit with batons, the South China Morning Post reported. Protesters speaking to AFP after the police had dispersed also said they had been pepper sprayed.
Protesters told AFP that they had decided to take the highway after police earlier cleared another occupied main road without warning.
"We planned to take this road in retaliation," said Jeff Wong, 30.
"The government refuses to talk to us so we will keep occupying the roads until we get a real dialogue."
As police dropped back, the protesters began to move metal barricades inside the tunnel, blocking it to traffic.
The road, which runs east-west outside the government complex, had not been occupied before.
- Tearing down barricades -Huge crowds have intermittently rallied against China's insistence that it will vet candidates standing for election as the semi-autonomous city's next leader in 2017 -- a move protesters have labelled as "fake democracy".
While the activists have been praised for their civility and organisational skills, they have also brought widespread disruption.
Angry and sometimes violent scuffles have broken out between demonstrators and government loyalists, sparking accusations the authorities are using hired thugs.
Police had been keeping a low profile at the three main protest sites after a decision to fire tear gas at peaceful demonstrators on September 28 caused outrage and encouraged tens of thousands to take to the streets.
But in the last two days, officers have begun probing protester defences in raids aimed at opening some roads to traffic, while allowing the bulk of demonstrators to stay in place.
Police had vowed earlier Tuesday to tear down more street barricades manned by pro-democracy protesters, hours after hundreds of officers armed with chainsaws and bolt cutters partially cleared two major roads occupied for a fortnight.
Barricades at two of the protest sites were dismantled early Tuesday with protesters putting up little resistance, sticking to their promise of non-violence.
- Sobs and defiance -Some protesters were seen sobbing as police went to work dismantling the barricades.
"We are only residents and students!" one tearful young woman shouted at police. "We will leave as we are unable to fight you, but we will not give up."
Police insisted they would soon turn their attention to another secondary site in Mongkok, which has seen violent scuffles between protesters and opposition groups.
A similar clearance operation on Monday at the edges of the main Admiralty protest camp prompted activists there to swiftly regroup.They laid down cement foundations and built up bamboo pole barricades blocking both lanes of a highway, using everything from steel chains to plastic cable ties and sticky tape to strengthen the structures.
But police Tuesday were well prepared for the obstacles, clearing them in less than an hour.
Protest leader Alex Chow reiterated a call for the city's chief executive Leung Chun-ying -- whose resignation protesters are demanding -- to restart stalled talks after the government abruptly cancelled dialogue last week.
"The Occupy movement will not retreat, there is no way to retreat right now... as long as Leung doesn't give a concrete solution, all the occupiers will not leave," said Chow, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.
But some protesters admitted they would struggle to protect barricades from further attacks, particularly overnight when demonstrator numbers drop significantly.
The renewed police offensive comes a day after masked men rushed barricades in Admiralty, sparking accusations that thugs and suspected triads were being used to harass demonstrators and serve as a pretext for police to act.
On Monday embattled leader Leung said he hoped the protests would end "as quickly as possible".
A new poll released Tuesday by Hong Kong University showed Leung's support rating dropped 2.6 percent from late last month to 40.6 percent, his second lowest rating since he came to office in 2012.