Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on Friday when hundreds of pro-Beijing supporters and alleged gang members stormed a pro-democracy demonstration in a densely packed shopping district, assaulting student protesters and tearing down resource tents. The night ended with scuffles between police and protesters who felt that they weren't being protected by city law enforcement.
In response to the chaos, the Hong Kong Federation of Students, a leading organizing group of the pro-democracy movement, canceled planned talks with officials, angry that police did not do enough to stop the assailants.
"It is government and police who break the dialogue and they should bear the consequences themselves," the group said in a statement published by South China Morning News.
The scuffles occurred in Mong Kok, a popular tourist site on Kowloon Peninsula, where open-air markets are interspersed with luxury shopping malls. A mob of anti-Occupy Central activists charged passed a police line late in the afternoon and attacked a small group of protesters staging a sit-in. The counter-protesters dismantled a dozen or so resource tents, which were stocked with food and medical supplies, chanting, "go home" and "support the police." VICE News approached three people who helped tear down tents for comment, but they refused to speak.
BBC correspondent Carrie Gracie reported that a police source had informed her that Triads, criminal organizations based in and around China, had abetted the violence.
Just back from ruckus in Mongkok. Police source says: 'Clearly triads involved.'
— Carrie Gracie (@BBCCarrie)October 3, 2014
Spontaneous street fights broke out amid the chaos. Witnesses told VICE News that mobs attacked several students unprovoked.
"The anti crowd identified a student who looked like [student leader] Joshua Wong and beat him up," a 40-year-old protester named Lap Cheung noted.
Mic Tsang, a registered nurse who attended to injuries throughout the day, said that a student demonstrator had suffered a particularly painful kick to his genitals. Another student was sent to the hospital after being struck in the head, his pupils alarmingly fixed and dilated as paramedics carried him away on a stretcher.
Observers told VICE News that they witnessed counter-protesters sexually assaulting students. A demonstrator named Hong Sai Keung said that he saw 10 men surround and grope a young woman before he intervened and led her away. He alleged that police had been watching the incident without acting.
Students who found themselves surrounded by angry mobs were escorted away by fellow protesters or, in some cases, the police. Some were hit or spat on.
Coco Ng said she was walking with a friend when a woman identified her as a target.
"Suddenly, one man just came and pushed me with his body like this," Ng told VICE News, demonstrating an aggressive chest bump.
As the workday ended, thousands of people began to flood the streets in support of the pro-democracy protesters, and the anti-Occupy crowd was soon outnumbered. Students located pro-Beijing individuals among the sea of people and surrounded them, chanting, "arrest him." Police would escort anyone targeted by the students away from the crowd.
Tensions flared again late into the night, after an incident in which a plainclothes police officer allegedly shoved a student to the ground. In response, a mass of angry protesters surrounded a police van, which slowly worked its way through the swarm toward an eventual escape. Protesters continued to follow police all the way to the station, with sporadic scuffles breaking out.
"Fuck the police," said Martin, a 22-year-old demonstrator who refused to give his last name. "They don't protect Hong Kong citizens. They only protect the bullies."
A spokesperson said that police arrested 19 men, including eight with connections to criminal organizations. At least 18 people were injured during the clashes, including six police officers.
Friday's clashes reinvigorated pro-democracy protesters at a moment when the movement appeared to be tapering off. With a two-day holiday over, protests around Hong Kong were the smallest they had been all week. The violence in Mong Kok, however, brought thousands of people back out to the street.
Follow Steven Hsieh on Twitter: @stevenjhsieh