4 Oct 2014

Arrests after attacks in Hong Kong

7:53 pm on 4 October 2014

Police in Hong Kong have arrested several people with suspected links to the city's notorious triad criminal gangs after a series of attacks on pro-democracy protesters.

Hong Kong

Pro-democracy demonstrators look on as they protect a barricade from anti-protesters in an occupied area of Hong Kong. Photo: AFP

Nineteen people have been arrested over the clashes, the ABC reported.

Police have denied acting in concert with the gangs after student leaders said officials had allowed the triads to attack their protest camps.

Earlier today, fresh scuffles broke out between pro-democracy protesters and their opponents.

The police intervened to prevent a violent escalation, but a rowdy crowd of about 2000 filled a major intersection in the small hours of this morning while officers in riot gear tried to keep them under control.

The protests have been largely peaceful since they began a week ago, when tens of thousands flooded the streets demanding Beijing grant Hong Kong the unfettered right to choose its own leader.

Talks with government postponed

The leaders of the pro-democracy group postponed talks with the government after earlier scuffles with opponents on Friday, the BBC reported.

Hong Kong's leader on Thursday offered talks to defuse the situation after the protesters called for his resignation.

But tension rose as people apparently angry with the disruption caused by the protests tried to dismantle tents and barricades.

On Friday, the Hong Kong Federation of Students said in a statement it had "shelved" the talks. A time and place for the negotiations had never been confirmed.

"The government allowed the mafia to attack peaceful Occupy participants. It has cut off the path to a dialogue, and should be responsible for the consequences," it said.

"The government has not kept its promise. We have no choice but to shelve the talks."

It was not clear whether the statement reflected the position of other groups involved in the protest.

Occupy Central leader Benny Tai told the BBC they were still only considering a boycott of the talks. However, he said police were not protecting the demonstrators against attacks by their opponents and this situation could not continue.

"It's very, very difficult to maintain any sense of dialogue if the government does not stop these things happening to peaceful protesters," he said.

There was no immediate response from the government to the postponement.

'Just a game'

In the commercial district of Mong Kok, on the Kowloon peninsula, opponents of the demonstrators had tried to dismantle tents.

Pro-democracy protesters rest outside outside government offices in Hong Kong

Pro-democracy protesters rest outside outside government offices in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP

Police linked arms to try to separate the opposing groups.

Later, more pro-democracy activists flooded the area and vastly outnumbered their opponents, the BBC's Martin Patience said.

They began chanting: "Go back to the mainland." Many activists suspect that these people were coordinated by the Hong Kong or Chinese governments.

But their very presence was a reminder that not everyone in Hong Kong was on the side of the protesters, he said.

At least some of the protesters' opponents appeared to be local residents angered by the disruption.

"I don't support Occupy Central. We have to work and make money. Occupy is just a game," said a construction worker who gave his name as Mr Lee, quoted by the AFP news agency.

"Give us Mong Kok back, we Hong Kongers need to eat!" another said.

Similar scuffles took place in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, where residents tried to remove barricades put up by pro-democracy protesters.

At the time, the three main protest groups issued a statement blaming the authorities for the violence.

"If the government does not immediately prevent the organised attacks on supporters of the Occupy movement, the students will call off dialogue on political reform with the government," it said.

'Doomed to fail'

Government offices in the main protest-hit area have been closed, with the authorities urging staff to work from home because roads were blocked.

At the heart of the row is how Hong Kong elects its next leader. In August, Beijing imposed tight rules on nominations for candidates wanting to stand for election.

Hong Kong

A group of men in masks beat up a man (R) who tried to stop them from removing barricades from a pro-democracy protest area in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong. Photo: AFP

The protesters say this move means that the polls will fall short of the free elections they are seeking.

Several days into their week-long demonstrations, the protesters added the demand that Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung step down.

Mr Leung refused late on Thursday but offered talks with his deputy, which the activists accepted.

The central government in Beijing has thrown its full support behind Mr Leung, calling the protests illegal and "doomed to fail".

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