A backlash against a student-led protest movement produced ugly scenes and arrests in several Hong Kong locations, as tensions boiled over for business owners and local residents angry at having their local roads and neighbourhoods blocked.
Hong Kong police said Saturday they have arrested 19 people, some of whom are believed to have organized crime ties, after mobs tried to drive pro-democracy protesters from the streets where they have held a week-long, largely peaceful demonstration.
At least 12 people and six officers were injured during the clashes, district commander Kwok Pak-chung said at a pre-dawn press briefing. Protest leaders called off planned talks with the government on political reforms after the battles kicked off Friday afternoon in gritty, blue-collar Mong Kok, across Victoria Harbor from the activists' main protest camp.
Police struggled for hours to control the battles as attackers pushed, shoved and jeered the protesters. Those arrested face charges of unlawful assembly, fighting in public and assault, Kwok said, adding that eight men are believed to have backgrounds involving triads, or organized crime gangs.
The protesters urged residents to join their cause and demanded that the police protect their encampments. The Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the groups leading the demonstrations that drew tens of thousands of people earlier this week, said they saw no choice but to cancel the dialogue.
"The government is demanding the streets be cleared. We call upon all Hong Kong people to immediately come to protect our positions and fight to the end," the group said in a statement.
They demanded the government hold someone responsible for the scuffles Friday, the worst disturbances since police used tear gas and pepper spray on protesters last weekend to try to disperse them.
Hundreds of people remained in the streets early Saturday in Mong Kok, one of Hong Kong's busiest shopping areas, after the clashes.
"Of course I'm scared, but we have to stay and support everyone," said Michael Yipu, 28, who works in a bank.