Hundreds of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists scuffled with police on Sunday as they tried to encircle government headquarters, defying orders for protesters to retreat after more than two months of demonstrations.
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With the crowds chanting “surround government headquarters” and “open the road”, hundreds of people made their way to the buildings in Admiralty, next to the city’s central business district and some of the world’s most expensive real estate.
Police used pepper spray to disperse the protesters, dragging two to the ground before arresting and cuffing them with plastic ties and taking them away. Scores of demonstrators held up umbrellas, which have become a symbol of the pro-democracy movement, to protect themselves from pepper spray.
The scuffles came after two student groups, who have led the two-month long civil disobedience campaign, urged supporters to escalate their actions at the main protest site in the city’s government neighborhood of Admiralty.
Protesters are demanding free elections for the city’s next leader in 2017, not the vote between pre-screened candidates that Beijing has said it will allow.
The flare-up comes after four nights of clashes in the gritty, working class district of Mong Kok, across the harbor from Admiralty, after police on Wednesday cleared that area — one of the city’s largest and most volatile protest sites.
The latest clashes underscore the obstacles authorities face as a restive younger generation challenges Beijing’s grip on the financial hub and demands for greater democracy.
Twenty-eight people were arrested in the unrest on Friday night and early Saturday in Mong Kok, which is packed with shops, street stalls, jewelry shops and restaurants.
The democracy movement represents one of the biggest threats for China’s Communist Party leadership since its bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy student protests in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
The Hong Kong rallies drew more than 100, 000 on to the streets at their peak. Numbers have since dwindled to a few hundred and public support for the movement has waned.