Protesters reinforced their blockades with cement and giant bamboo structures after police and others tried to remove them in an attempto to open streets to regular traffic.
Tensions heated up in Hong Kong on Monday as police and counter-demonstrators tried to forcefully remove barricades set up by protesters who have occupied the streets for two weeks. Protesters responded by using cement to reinforce their barricades, and refused to move.
Police started moving some of the barricades on Monday morning, trying to allow traffic to pass through the busy commercial district of Admiralty, one of the main protest sites. According to authorities, police were not trying to break up the protest, only to relieve traffic congestion.
A few hours later, hundreds of men stormed various occupied sites across the city, attacking protesters and dragging barricades away, chanting “Open the roads.” Some of the men were wearing surgical masks to hide their faces, and carried crowbars and cutting tools. Police at one point stepped in to separate the two groups.
Taxi drivers joined the clash, honking their horns and demanding the protesters open the road to traffic. A truck mounted with a crane also drove by several of the sites dismantling the blockades and the occupiers' tents.
Protesters responded by building more barricades, and by Monday afternoon they had erected bamboo scaffolding four meters high, and reinforced other blockades with cement. Many of the protesters remained camped out in Admiralty Monday night.
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“I don’t want to cause any inconvenience to the public but it is the only way we can do it. If we do it in a more peaceful or legal way, the government won’t notice us,” said a stage audio technician named Tyler who was among the protesters in Admiralty.
"We've now reached a stage where even if they dismantle everything and clear the roads, we'll just regroup and do it somewhere else. They can't demolish our spirit," said Bert Tseng, a university student who has been at the demonstrations for the past two weeks.
The protesters, largely run by students, have been occupying several areas of the city since September 29, demanding the right to an open democratic process. China announced in August that it would allow Hong Kong universal suffrage but only if the candidates are first screened and approved.
Protesters have been demanding that the island's chief executive Leung Chun-ying step down, since he is known to have close ties with Chinese elite and has done little to help the socio-economic condition in Hong Kong – which is one of the most unequal societies in the developed world – since his time in office.
On Sunday, Leung said the movement was “out of control,” and maintained that he would not step down. He also reiterated that protesters have “zero chance” of achieving their goals.
Students from the organizations leading the protests and government officials were meant to meet for talks last Friday, however the government canceled the talks at the last minute calling the protests illegal. Since the cancellation, supporters of the movement have swelled.