Vincent Yu / AP Photo

Hong Kong police clear Mongkok protest site

On second day of clearing volatile pro-democracy protest site in Mongkok, police arrest 116 people; nine officers hurt

Hong Kong authorities cleared street barricades set up by pro-democracy protesters in Mongkok shopping district for a second day Wednesday, after a night of clashes in which police arrested 116 people.

Among those arrested were Joshua Wong and Lester Shum, two of the student leaders at the heart of pro-democracy protests. 

Their arrests could reinvigorate the flailing protest movement, which launched in September.  When Wong and Shum were arrested on Sept. 26 for storming a courtyard next to government headquarters, their prolonged detention appeared to help draw demonstrators to the streets in Mongkok and two other districts.

People wearing red baseball caps and T-shirts that said "I (heart) HK" helped dismantle a first row of barricades made up mostly of wooden pallets after bailiffs issued a warning to the crowd that they would start enforcing the court-ordered clearance.

Police officers wearing helmets soon stepped in, using shears to clear further rows of metal barricades while others tore down tents and canopies and carried away other obstructions, including a sofa.

"If you resist you face possible imprisonment. We warn you to immediately stop resisting," said a policeman into a loud hailer before jeering activists.

Scuffles and swearing broke out as police moved in, and several protesters who resisted were hauled away, witnesses said.

Hundreds of other officers advanced slowly along the street while some stood by with backpack pepper sprayers.

"You can't defeat the protesters' hearts!" screamed Liu Yuk-lin, a 52-year-old protester in a hard hat holding a yellow umbrella, the symbol of the protest movement, as she stood before lines of police in helmets and goggles.

Local media reports said 4,000 officers were on hand to enforce the court injunction granted to taxi drivers to remove obstructions from Nathan Road, a busy artery in Kowloon.

Traffic along Nathan Road, which had been blocked at the Mongkok site since late September, began flowing again. The clearance operation took slightly more than three hours.

Police said that the 116 people arrested as of early Wednesday were held for offenses including unlawful assembly and assaulting or obstructing police. One man was arrested for possessing offensive weapons including an ax, hammer and crowbar.

The arrest toll was likely to rise after police were seen detaining several more people as the operation got underway.

Nine officers were hurt in the scuffles.

Protesters have been camped out on major thoroughfares since Sept. 28 demanding greater democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. The standoff has continued with no end in sight as neither the government nor the student-led protesters have shown any willingness to compromise.

The demonstrators demand that Hong Kong's government scrap a plan mandated by China's communist leaders to use a panel of Beijing-friendly elites to screen candidates for the city's top leader in inaugural 2017 elections.

Organizers estimated that as many as 200,000 people took to the semi-autonomous Chinese city's streets at the start of the protests, but numbers have since dwindled sharply, along with public support.

The chaotic scenes overnight underscored the challenge Hong Kong authorities face in trying to shut down the protest site in gritty, working-class Mongkok. It 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 a handful of barricades.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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