HONG KONG—Police and protesters got into violent confrontations, engaged in sometimes comical games of cat and mouse, and finally reached an uneasy standoff on Friday night in the working class district of Mong Kok, with the result that by the early morning hours on Saturday pro-democracy activists, and perhaps some who just came out for a good time, had seized control of a main thoroughfare after their long-term encampment was ripped apart by police in the morning.
The intersection of Nathan and Argyle roads in Mong Kok is one of the three areas that has been occupied in the city since late September. Student activists and supporters have launched the so called occupy campaign in an attempt to pressure the Hong Kong government into a dialogue concerning a more democratic means of electing the leader of the city. At the moment Hong Kong’s chief executive is chosen by a committee loyal to Beijing.
At 5:30 a.m. on Friday police raided the site, pulling down tarpaulins and cutting up the tents that had become protesters’ makeshift sleeping quarters. The raid evidently took activists entirely offguard; they put up little resistance as their encampment of three weeks was turned into rubbish.
But when the sun went down, it was a different story.
Protesters managed to shut down both Nathan and Argyle roads at various points, though each incursion earned police charges, batons, and doses of pepper spray. Several occupiers were arrested and at least one was knocked bloody and hospitalized.
— Benjamin Chasteen (@Ben_Chasteen) October 17, 2014
The crowd, skewing heavily toward the young and the male, later began a campaign of guerilla harassment of the police, running onto the road in groups and blocking traffic, then retreating when besieged. They did this continuously, up and down the busy Argyle Street.
Later, when police secured both sides of the road with cordons, they found that regular citizens simply attempting to go shopping were being caught in the dragnet. So they began allowing crossings when the traffic lights went red. Activists then took this as a cue, flooding the road and staying there–pretending to tie their shoe laces, or tossing coins on the ground and making a great show of looking for them.
Exasperated police officers began to tire of the antics, and by the early hours of the morning many looked worn out. A crowd of what was probably thousands still crowded around barricades and broke into occasional roars and applauses. They took back half of Argyle Street and erected barricades in front of police. But whether they would last the morning, let alone be ready for a prolonged siege, was far from clear.
“Hong Kong is becoming more like China. There was a big difference between this street before and now. It’s just for selling jewelry to China now” said Lawrence Chan, a 25-year-old swimming teacher who had to go to work at 9 a.m. It was 2:30 a.m. when he spoke to a reporter.
“This road is very important,” said Kay Chan, 18, in her last year of high school. With oversize glasses, a sizable gold coloured necklace, and the scent of alcohol on her breath, she said that Mong Kok was “the heart of Hong Kong, the pulse of Hong Kong,” feeling the pulse of a reporter to make her point clear.
“We have thousands or tens of thousands,” she said of the superior numbers of the occupiers. When reminded of the fact that the site was cleared that morning because only a few dozen were present to guard it, she conceded that “yes, because we have to go to work in the morning.”