HONG KONG - Outrage was mounting in Hong Kong on Wednesday over a video showing police beating a protester, adding fuel to criticisms of heavy-handed police actions such as the use of tear gas which the government said was necessary to prevent a stampede.
The video, which was shown on local TV station TVB, showed plainclothes officers beating and kicking a handcuffed protester identified as Civic Party member Ken Tsang. The party released pictures of Tsang with bruises on his face and body.
Civic Party vice-chairman Tanya Chan told reporters that Tsang sustained scratches and bruises from his hips to his head, according to reports. She claimed he was also slapped when he was held at a police station.
Secretary of Security Lai Tung Kwok told reporters that police were concerned about the issue and will carry out a "just and fair investigation".
"The policemen who are involved in the incident have been removed from their current working positions," he added without specifying how many officers were being probed.
The BBC's website was blocked in China on Wednesday after a video of the beating went viral on the Internet.
The beating took place early Wednesday morning during a clear-out operation by police at Lung Wo road, where pro-democracy protesters had set up barricades on Tuesday in response to an earlier police operation to clear the blockades in Queensway.
In some of the most violent scenes since pro-democracy demonstrations began more than a fortnight ago, dozens of police officers in riot gear used pepper spray on the activists. They also used batons and their gloved fists to beat back protesters guarding newly erected barricades. A wall of police marched on demonstrators clutching the umbrellas, striking protesters and shoving them to the ground.
Protesters alleged that the pepper spray was used indiscriminately and without warning, according to reports. Within an hour, police had regained control of Lung Wo Road, which is just metres from the offices of Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying.
Police arrested 37 men and eight women for illegal assembly. In a statement, they appealed to the protesters to stay calm and restrained, and express their views in a rational and peaceful manner.
Police also urged the protesters not to charge at police cordon line, saying that advancing against police cordon line even with their arms raised was not a peaceful act, according to the statement.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), however, condemned the police operation, saying "it is not necessary for police to resort to eviction with violence". In a statement, the HKFS demanded the resignation of police commissioner Andy Tsang Wai Hung and a police apology to the victims.
The Hong Kong police had come under heavy criticisms since they used tear gas on crowds of protesters on Sept 28.
But the government on wednesday defended the move, saying tear gas was needed to prevent a stampede, and possibly deaths, among the pro-democracy protester.
The security secretary said the crowds that day were "deliberately and incessantly" charging at the police cordon at Harcourt Road, the main protest site of the Occupy Central movement.
Meantime, Hong Kong legislators meeting on Wednesday for the first time since the pro-democracy protests erupted were locked in a shouting match. Some lawmakers demanded to know if others had received financial advantages resulting in conflict of interest, when questioning the government's handling of the pro-democracy movement.
Legislative Council (LegCo) president Jasper Tsang lamented: "This is worse off than the performance of primary school pupils."
Before the start of the LegCo session, protesters heckled the legislators as they entered the building. Former secretary of security Regina Ip was called "running dog" of the Chinese Communist Party.
Chief Executive Leung had said on Monday that he hoped the protests would end "as quickly as possible". A new poll released on Tuesday by Hong Kong University showed his support rating dropped 2.6 per cent from late last month to 40.6 per cent, his second-lowest rating since he came to office in 2012.
And a Chinese government official, speaking to the foreign media on Wednesday afternoon in a rare informal briefing, said the protests "should not have any effect on Apec", referring to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Meeting - which will see 21 heads of state including United States President Barack Obama converging on Beijing - to take place from Nov 5 to Nov 11.
Asked if the Occupy movement, now in its 18th day, will be "embarrassing for President Xi" if it drags on till then, the official, who asked not to be named, replied: "We have seen that the situation in Hong Kong is gradually restoring to normalcy. It should not have any effect on Apec."
She also indicated that sending in the People's Liberation Army to resolve the situation is not on the cards - for now. "So far, there is no such need," she said simply.
She added that the central government is confident in the abilities of the Hong Kong authorities, including the police, to handle the situation, adding that social order is being restored gradually.