Rival protesters are facing off in Hong Kong. The confrontation has fueled concerns that the Beijing-controlled city's worst unrest in decades could take a more violent turn.
Supporters of Hong Kong's pro-mainland government resumed their rallies against pro-democracy protesters on Saturday. Many Hong Kong residents have expressed anger and frustration at police handling of the unrest, with some accusing security forces of cooperating with criminal gangs, failing to make arrests and helping some attackers to exit the scene quickly.
"I find it ironic how people accuse us of being violent and radical and now after one week of peaceful protests the ones who use violence is them: the government that allows triads to exercise brutality on peaceful protesters," student leader Joshua Wong said, referring to notorious criminal gangs.
Protesters aligned with the Occupy Central movement have accused police of not intervening to stop a mob from assaulting them on Friday.
"The government and police turned a blind eye to violent acts by the triads targeting peaceful Occupy protesters," the Hong Kong Federation of Students wrote Friday.
Since Britain handed Hong Kong over to Chinese authorities in 1997, Beijing has subjected the city to a "one country, two systems" formula, according some autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland. Protesters demand that city leader Leung Chun-ying step down and Beijing reverse a decision to handpick candidates for Hong Kong's 2017 election.
'Alternative violent crackdown'
One of the main student groups behind the Occupy Central protest movement has announced plans to pull out of talks with Hong Kong's government because members believe that authorities have colluded in the attacks on demonstrators in Mong Kok.
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused counterdemonstrators of sexually assaulting pro-democracy protesters. On Saturday, scores of yellow signs around the site occupied by pro-democracy supporters read: "Police and mob working together - an alternative violent crackdown."
The pro-mainland Caring Hong Kong Power, which organized Saturday's counterdemonstration, expressed support for the use of guns by police and deploying the People's Liberation Army. However, embattled Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying has said that he would not call in PLA soldiers - for now. Beijing's military killed several hundred people when putting down the protests on and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Hong Kong Security Secretary Lai Tung-kwok has denied allegations that police cooperated with the triads. Friday's arrests included eight suspected gang members, and the 18 people injured in the assaults included six police officers, authorities claim.
mkg/nm (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)