HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong police arrested 33 people and fired pepper spray during clashes with demonstrators that disrupted traffic Sunday, as a protest at the rising number of visitors from mainland China turned violent.
Local residents are becoming increasingly angry at border-crossing Chinese traders, whom they say have disrupted their daily lives and clogged public transport.
The so-called parallel traders typically travel to Hong Kong by train and stock up on everything from iPads to milk powder, taking advantage of the lower prices, wider choice and better quality of goods in the city while dodging hefty tariffs on their return.
Scuffles broke out between rival groups as demonstrators marched through the main shopping area in Yuen Long, a neighbourhood close to the Chinese border, prompting police to intervene to break up the fighting.
Some protesters leaving the scene spilled over onto nearby roads, disrupting traffic and local businesses, according to police.
"Police took resolute actions by using the minimum level of force, including using pepper spray and batons, to stop the unlawful violent acts and arrest the protesters involved," city police said in a statement.
"Police arrested 31 men and two women, aged between 13 and 74," the statement said, adding that charges ranged from possession of offensive weapons to assaulting officers and public order offences.
Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control from Britain in 1997 but is semi-autonomous, retaining border controls and a separate administration.
Anti-mainland groups called for traders to return to China, while their opponents shouted "Go back home!" to the demonstrators in the latest protest against Chinese visitors in Hong Kong's northern New Territories.
One officer was surrounded by a group of protesters who hit him in the face, said a photographer at the scene. It was not clear to which group the attackers belonged.
The police statement said five officers were injured during the incident.
Earlier this week Hong Kong's leader said the government was considering restricting the number of Chinese tourists entering the city, following the public backlash.
The announcement came after a leading travel body said the number of mainland visitors over the Lunar New Year fell for the first time in almost 20 years - attributing the trend to the frosty reception they receive.