Police are again chasing down activists in Hong Kong. Amnesty International has warned of "excessive force" ahead of a weekend rally following scuffles as a major protest site was cleared earlier this week.
Early Saturday, police again charged demonstrators, pepper-spraying and wrestling them to the ground. As they have done for two months, protesters opened their umbrellas against the choking liquid and carried right on.
A three-hour march by hundreds of people calling for "real full democracy" helped put the city's 28,000-strong police force further on edge. Leung Yiu-chung, a pro-democracy lawmaker who observed the clashes, criticized the lack of restraint by some police.
"Some of them were deliberately inciting people," Leung said of police during the overnight protests.
In response, protesters sometimes pelted police with eggs, bottled water and wooden boards. Officers, some bleeding, lashed out liberally with their batons to keep crowds back. The fresh tensions came as authorities have struggled for months to find a resolution to the most serious governance crisis in the former British colony since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, with protests drawing more than 100,000 people at their early peak, though the public perception of demonstrations as a tactic has diminished.
'Unjustifiable' and ‘unnecessary'
Friday marked two months of rallies for free elections in 2017. In September, China's central government in Beijing announced that a loyalist committee would vet the candidates, which demonstrators say will result in the election of a pro-Beijing stooge. The decision seemed to violate China's "one country, two systems" policy, which has afforded Hong Kong a relatively high degree of autonomy.
Police stepped up their efforts to clear protest sites earlier this week. Amnesty International reported that police used "unjustifiable force against protesters, bystanders and journalists."
Officers liberally dispensed pepper spray, for example, and arrested more than 140 people, including protest leaders Joshua Wong and Lester Shum, who accuse police of violence against them. The 18-year-old Wong has been forbidden from returning to the site.
"The heavy-handed approach by police violates the protesters' rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and risks exacerbating an already tense situation," Mabel Au, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said on Friday.
Footage from Wednesday showed an officer hitting an unarmed man on the back with a baton near the cleared protest zone on Wednesday night. On Friday, police spokesman Hui Chun-tak said that the force remained "highly concerned about a police officer suspected in an incident of unnecessary use of force."
Nevertheless, fresh clashes have flared in Mong Kok, with thousands of protesters facing off against police with batons at the ready, again deploying pepper spray as scores of officers continue to push back protesters, warning them to disperse. Police arrested about a dozen more protesters on Friday, as well.
mkg/lw (Reuters, AFP)