Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrators have redoubled efforts to rebuild occupation barricades in the streets of the city's financial center after 26 people were arrested and more than 60 injured in violent clashes with police over the weekend.
Protesters reclaimed occupation zones and established new barricades in parts of a main protest area in Mong Kok Saturday and Sunday after a clearing operation Friday evening riled up — but ultimately failed to disperse — the crowd of roughly 9,000.
Activists armed with yellow hardhats, goggles, and cloth masks used umbrellas to shield themselves from police batons and pepper spray as authorities in riot gear charged protest lines. Umbrellas have become an unofficial symbol of the resistance, which some have dubbed the "umbrella revolution."
A mass civil disobedience movement has swept the city in recent weeks after China announced a controversial plan in late August that would severely restrict candidature for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017.
Dr. Chan Kin-man, one of the organizers and co-founder of the Occupy Central movement, told local media that the scene over the weekend was "weird because the police knew that they couldn't… stop people from gathering by using pepper spray, but they still used it."
The heavy-handed police response "was only arousing conflict," he said.
Hong Kong Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung made a rare statement at a press conference Saturday, saying police have been "extremely tolerant" of the demonstrations so far, which he said are both "unlawful," and have become "radical" and "violent" of late.
"These illegal acts are undermining the rule of law, undermining [what] Hong Kong has always been relying on to succeed," Tsang told reporters.
One of the arrests made Friday evening was Getty Images photojournalist Paula Bronstein, an American who was taken into custody by police as she covered the standoff in Mong Kok. The detention was strongly condemned by the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong.
"These tactics are a flagrant violation of the media's right to report this unfolding story," the FCC said in a statement. "We demand the immediate release of Ms. Bronstein and an end to such intimidation."
The FCC claimed police had also threatened other journalists covering the protests.
Bronstein, a Pulitzer Prize finalist best known for her work in Afghanistan, was standing on a car at the time of her arrest taking photos. She has since been released on bail, according to local reports.
Earlier in the week, witnesses told VICE News that anti-Occupy groups had appeared in the streets of Central Hong Kong armed with a massive claw truck to tear down the metal barricades that have been obstructing traffic and business near the headquarters of the Occupy movement.
A few days later, police came in with chainsaws to take down the barriers surrounding a makeshift tent city that protesters had set up last weekend, local residents said.
The government and protest leaders remain at an impasse, with the next round of talks to resolve the deepening political crisis scheduled for Tuesday.
Beijing has so far declined to reverse its announcement of electoral changes that would require candidates in Hong Kong's 2017 ballot for Chief Executive to first be vetted by a small committee consisting of mostly pro-Chinese elites.
China had initially promised the former British colony wide-ranging electoral freedom after it was handed back to the mainland in 1997 under a formula of "one country, two systems," but the agreement was not explicitly legislated.
Meanwhile, the protests, which have peaked and lulled at different times, look set to stay, even amid a police crackdown, with new campaigners from Taiwan, the West, and elsewhere flying in to join the movement.
"I will continue to stay here until CY (Leung) [Hong Kong's current Chief Executive] resigns," one protester, Lap Cheung, 40, who returned from the United States to Hong Kong for the protests, told Reuters.
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