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Demonstrators and Police Clash in Hong Kong as Officials Clear Out Protest Site

At least 10 pro-democracy activists arrested amid scuffles as officials clear Mong Kok camp; UK politicians pull out of Shanghai visit after China denies visa to former diplomat who voiced support for protesters.

by Hannah Strange
Nov 25 2014, 1:15pm

Image via Reuters

At least 80 pro-democracy demonstrators were detained by Hong Kong police after clashes broke out as officials moved in to clear a major protest site on Tuesday morning. 

Some 3,000 police officers were on stand-by as bailiffs were sent in to remove the protesters following a court order to clear the Mong Kok camp, at a key intersection in the city and the scene of some of the most serious violence in almost two months of demonstrations. 

Most activists complied with the orders to leave the area as bailiffs tore down barricades and dismantled tents. But a small core of around 100 masked protesters refused to be moved, shouting "I want free elections" and "We want real suffrage," according to The South China Morning Post.

"I am not going to move. I will let them arrest me," Ng Pun-tuk, a helmeted 78-year-old demonstrator told AFP. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve democracy. I am prepared to go to jail."

The demonstrators also held up three fingers in imitation of the protest sign from The Hunger Games, a symbol of resistance to the film's fictional authoritarian regime which has also been adopted by activists against Thailand's military junta.

Police then moved in to disperse the resisting protesters, and, amid scuffles in which tear spray was reportedly used, arrested at least 10 activists, including the left-wing lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung. 

The protests — which began in October amid anger at China's insistence that candidates in the 2017 election must be pre-selected by a Beijing-backed committee — initially saw thousands of demonstrators take to the streets, effectively paralyzing much of the city. Their numbers have since dwindled to a few hundred, but those that remain are determined to keep standing up for their aims. Attempts at negotiation have fallen apart. 

On Monday night, a British parliamentary delegation cancelled a trip to Shanghai amid a dispute over China's denial of a visa to one of its members, who had previously made a speech voicing a degree of support for the protesters' aims.

Richard Graham, the Conservative member of parliament (MP) for Gloucester and a former diplomat who held a number of posts in the region, incurred the ire of Beijing with a debate on October 22 in which he stood up for the principles of autonomy agreed ahead of Hong Kong's return from Britain to China in 1997. 

The Chinese embassy in London then demanded that he clarify his position on the protests, The Guardian newspaper reported. The delegation, which included former cabinet ministers, responded by saying it would cancel the three-day visit for which it was due to depart on Tuesday morning if Graham was not granted a visa. The embassy did not agree to the request. 

The trip was to take place under the auspices of the UK-China Leadership Forum organized by the Great British China Center, which is an independent organization but sponsored by the British Foreign Office. A spokesperson for the ministry said they had raised the issue with the government in Beijing and asked for an explanation of their decision to refuse Graham entry. 

At the October debate, Graham had noted that in the 1984 declaration ahead of the transfer of sovereignty, Beijing had committed itself to upholding ""freedom under the law, an independent judiciary, a free press, free speech and the freedom to demonstrate."

Graham, who served at the British embassy in Beijing and as British consul in Macao in the 1980s, said that if Britain allowed those freedoms to be curtailed or remained silent about "any dilution" of the region's autonomy, it risked "colluding in Hong Kong's gradual - not immediate - decline" and would be failing in the commitments it had made upon handing over the territory. 

He also attempted to assuage Chinese concerns over instability and the involvement of foreign forces in the protests, and insisted that Britain, as the former colonial power, had no interest in interfering in Hong Kong's affairs. 

The MP  said: "Stability for nations is not, in our eyes, about maintaining the status quo regardless, but about reaching out for greater involvement with the people - in this case, of Hong Kong - allowing them a greater say in choosing their leaders and, above all, trusting in the people.

"We have no interest, no advantage or no conceivable selfish purpose in any form of car crash with Hong Kong's sovereign master, China. Rather, it is in all our interests, but particularly those of Britain and China in fulfilling the joint declaration, that Hong Kong continues to thrive and prosper, in a different world from that of 1984 or even 1997."

Follow Hannah Strange on Twitter: @hannahkstrange