KELVIN CHAN, Associated Press
HONG KONG (AP) — Police arrested key student leaders as they cleared the most volatile of Hong Kong’s three pro-democracy protest camps on Wednesday, dealing a blow to the 2-month-old movement in the former British colony.
On the second day of the operation, police in helmets swiftly removed metal barricades, tents, canopies and other obstructions in Mong Kok, a crowded, blue-collar neighborhood that has been the flash point of earlier clashes.
Two other protest zones remain in place: a sprawling main camp next to government headquarters on the edge of the financial district and a smaller site in the Causeway Bay shopping district.
Protesters scattered and traffic started flowing on Nathan Road after the clearance operation finished up by mid-afternoon. But large crowds returned to the area hours later, met by police preventing them from trying to retake the street.
Mong Kok has been home to a more raucous and aggressive group of protesters than at the two other sites. Previous efforts to clear the area have backfired, sending more people into the streets in the evening to confront police.
Police spokesman Steve Hui said a total of 148 people were arrested, including 55 for contempt of court and obstructing officers carrying out the court-ordered barricade removals over two days. In chaotic pepper spray-fueled clashes that ensued after Tuesday’s barricade removal, police arrested 93 more for resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly and possessing offensive weapons.
Among those arrested Wednesday were protest leaders Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old head of the Scholarism group, and 21-year-old Lester Shum, deputy secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. The two groups have played important roles in organizing the protest movement.
“After the clearance operation we don’t have a leader,” said protester Ken Lee, 19, who quit his job at a restaurant in October after the protests erupted and spent his days in Mong Kok. “It all depends on what happens tonight, if the majority of the people want to reoccupy the area or go to another location.”
The protesters are demanding 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 territory’s top leader in inaugural 2017 elections. The arrest of the popular student leaders could reinvigorate the protest movement, which has been losing steam as the Hong Kong government’s apparent strategy of waiting out the protesters left them with few options.
Organizers estimated that as many as 200,000 people took to the semiautonomous Chinese city’s streets at the start of the protests, but numbers have since dwindled sharply, along with public support.
In the latest push, police were acting to help enforce a court injunction granted to taxi drivers to remove obstructions along Mong Kok’s Nathan Road. On Tuesday authorities enforced a separate injunction to clear a smaller part of the Mong Kok site.
Also Wednesday, Hong Kong police said seven officers have been arrested for assault in connection with the Oct. 15 beating of protester Ken Tsang, who was caught on camera being kicked and punched in a dark corner while handcuffed during a violent nighttime clash.
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