Hong Kong Legislative Council chamber session cancelled after violent clashes overnight

A policeman carries a barrier past a broken window of the government headquarters building in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Nov 19, 2014, after a small group attempted to break into the city's legislature. -- PHOTO: AFP
A policeman carries a barrier past a broken window of the government headquarters building in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Nov 19, 2014, after a small group attempted to break into the city's legislature. -- PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - A regular Wednesday session of the Hong Kong Legislative Council chamber was cancelled and visitor tours of the complex were suspended, the government said in a statement, after Hong Kong police clashed with pro-democracy demonstrators in the early hours of Wednesday after a small group attempted to break into the building.

Around 100 police officers used pepper spray and batons as they battled hundreds of protesters, some in helmets and waving umbrellas - a symbol of their movement - in the angry confrontation. Officers made four arrests.

"Police strongly condemn such acts by the protesters, which disrupted public order," the police force said in a statement. Police scouring the building on Wednesday took away at least one demonstrator who remained on the site as the working day began, according to the Apple Daily newspaper.

The clashes were sparked when a group of around a dozen protesters smashed their way through a side entrance to the Legislative Council building using metal barricades as improvised battering rams.

"Smash it open, then get inside," one protester was heard saying in footage aired by the local TVB channel. "We want to escalate our protest," a masked protester told TVB. "The government has not responded to the demands of protesters and residents."

At least one demonstrator made his way into the building, according to the Apple Daily newspaper.

The break-in was the clearest indication yet that a small faction of protesters want to ramp up rather than scale down action after the court-backed bailiffs’ action at Admiralty.

The execution of a second injunction ordering the clearance of a protest site in the Mongkok district on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong is expected within days, and though that area is smaller it has been the focal point of violence between the police, protesters and anti-Occupy groups in the last few weeks.“I think we should all move to occupy inside government headquarters and LegCo,” a 23-year-old protester who gave his surname as Wong told Agence France-Presse in Mongkok.“In Taiwan, activists occupied the Parliament on the first day. Now we have been sleeping out here for 50-odd days before we actually do it,” he added, referring to a month-long sit-in by students opposed to a trade pact with China.“Nothing has been achieved at Admiralty,” said 18-year-old Ms Saki Tin, who said she supported the group who attempted the break-in after camping out for 40 days. “Sitting here is not a solution.”

Student protest leaders said after the latest confrontation that their movement is committed to non-violence.

"It's not something we like to see... We call on occupiers to stick firm to peaceful and non-violent principles and be a responsible participant of the umbrella movement," said 21-year-old Lester Shum from the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

The leadership has its supporters. Mr David Cheng, a hairdresser, told AFP those who tried to storm the legislative headquarters did not represent him.“I don’t really support the approach. There might be violence or casualties. It’s not something we are fighting for,” he said.And in an interview with Australian newspaper The Age published on Wednesday, Hong Kong media magnate Jimmy Lai urged protesters to abandon the occupation altogether for fear of “exhausting” the goodwill of the population. Mr Lai is a heavyweight backer of the movement.