Hong Kong police used batons, pepper spray and water hoses in battles with pro-democracy protesters for control of streets near the government’s headquarters, as student leaders pledged to fight on for free elections.
Student leaders called this morning for people to head to the Admiralty district as demonstrators, some with makeshift shields and head gear, clashed with police along Lung Wo Road and other junctions near the main protest site in the city. Traffic was flowing on the roadway as of 9:30 a.m. local time.
Police failed to force demonstrators off a walkway connecting Admiralty, which has one of the city’s busiest metro stations, with the government offices. Police uprooted tents placed by protesters in Tamar Park near the government headquarters. The government announced the closure this morning of its main office building where thousands of civil servants work.
Student leaders rallied supporters last night in Admiralty and pledged to escalate the protests after police cleared demonstrators from the Mong Kok district across the harbor last week. Two months into the street occupations and public support for the demonstrations is flagging, while China’s government has refused to reverse a decision to screen candidates for the city’s first leadership election in 2017.
“The government must respond to the people’s democracy demands,” Alex Chow, the secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told reporters. “We must exert pressure on the authorities and the government headquarters is the symbol of central power. By surrounding the headquarters, we are paralyzing its operations.”
Control of Lung Wo Road, which is outside the chief executive’s office, swung from one side to the other during the night. Still, the number of protesters was below the tens of thousands at the movement’s peak when police used tear gas. Twenty people were arrested overnight, police said in a statement on their website.
The pro-democracy movement has stuttered in the past month, with polls showing public opinion swinging against it while some leaders called for an end to the occupation. Students seeking to go to Beijing to meet Chinese officials were turned back at the airport, while the Hong Kong courts issued injunctions for the clearance of some sites.
A group of U.K. lawmakers was told by the Chinese embassy that they would be refused entry to Hong Kong, the Press Association reported, citing lawmaker Richard Ottaway. The lawmakers were set to travel to Hong Kong as part of a review of the Joint Declaration, the U.K.-China agreement that led to Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. Ottaway has called for an emergency debate in the House of Commons over the matter, the Press Association reported.
About 68 percent of 513 people surveyed by the University of Hong Kong said the government should act to end the protests, according to a poll conducted Nov. 17-18.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said public nomination of candidates for the election would go against the city’s de-facto constitution, which calls for candidates to be selected by a committee before people vote. The panel is to be modeled on the 1,200 member election committee, which has directly chosen the city’s three chief executives since the handover.
“We must escalate our actions because the government has all along ignored us,” said Joanna Wong, 29, who had sought to push through police lines. “They didn’t respond. We must surround the government headquarters.”