Hong Kong police use tear spray to disperse swelling crowd of protesters

A man in Mong Kok hurling pipes at police and shouting that he would not leave. -- ST PHOTO: PEARL LIU
A man in Mong Kok hurling pipes at police and shouting that he would not leave. -- ST PHOTO: PEARL LIU
Hong Kong police in helmets in a stand-off with pro-democracy protesters at a site in Mong Kok -- ST PHOTO: PEARL LIU 
Hong Kong police in helmets in a stand-off with pro-democracy protesters at a site in Mong Kok -- ST PHOTO: PEARL LIU 
A riot police officer takes an umbrella from a pro-democracy protester during a confrontation at Mong Kok shopping district in Hong Kong on Nov 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A riot police officer takes an umbrella from a pro-democracy protester during a confrontation at Mong Kok shopping district in Hong Kong on Nov 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Police arrest a protester as they try to clear a road at a pro-democracy protest site in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Nov 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Police arrest a protester as they try to clear a road at a pro-democracy protest site in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Nov 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A protesters is helped after being sprayed with what police described as "tear spray" as officers attempted to clear demonstrators from a pro-democracy protest site in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Nov 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A protesters is helped after being sprayed with what police described as "tear spray" as officers attempted to clear demonstrators from a pro-democracy protest site in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Nov 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Policemen clear a street of demonstrators at a pro-democracy protest site in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Nov 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Policemen clear a street of demonstrators at a pro-democracy protest site in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Nov 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

AN OPERATION by police to clear a site in Mong Kok where pro-democracy protesters have camped for weeks turned chaotic Tuesday night, with the police using tear spray to disperse swelling crowds of protesters.

At the end of the work day, thousands joined those already in the district, where bailiffs and police earlier managed to demolish a small protest site at Argyle Street.

But this came amid scuffles and 80 arrests made.

Tensions were also merely diverted, with the flood of angry demonstrators eddying into nearby streets where numerous altercations with the police broke out throughout the evening.

Broken umbrellas lay strewn over the ground, wet with the tear spray that police used for the first time since the movement began on Sept 28.

A skittish stand-off is ongoing, with protesters shouting: "We want genuine universal suffrage!"

It is not a promising harbinger for future operations including one that was expected Wednesday, which will see a larger area - the main thoroughfare of Nathan Road - in Mong Kok being tackled.

Tuesday's operation had begun smoothly enough when protesters allowed bailiffs to dismantle barricades and wooden pellets. They were enforcing a court injunction obtained by a bus company and taxi groups to demolish the protest site re-open the road to traffic.

But the protesters later objected to being told to leave, arguing that the injunction covers only the removal of barriers but not people.

Shortly before 3pm, the police issued a "final warning" that they will carry out arrests and use "minimal force" if the demonstrators continue obstructing the bailiffs.

The scene then turned chaotic as the police formed a brigade and began moving forcibly forward against the crowd of about 200 protesters and journalists. Police in riot gear appeared shortly after.

Brawls broke out, and some protesters were pinned to the ground by officers and had their wrists bound, before they were marched off to police vans. 

A female student who was affected by the tear spray told The Straits Times that the police rushed at her without warning. "I will not leave even though I am very scared now," she said, while washing her eyes out. "The police officer was much stronger than me, and threatened me like a monster, but I will not go."

Another student, Allan Kwok, 22, who was helping those affected, said: "I am considering leaving, but not retreating. I will join the others in Admiralty."