Hundreds of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters faced off against police early on Monday in a fresh escalation of tensions, with officers firing pepper spray at angry students trying to surround the government headquarters.
In chaotic scenes, protesters wearing helmets and wielding umbrellas spilled into a major road outside the office of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying as police tried to beat them back with batons and pepper spray.
“I want true democracy!” protesters yelled. “Surround the headquarters. Paralyse the government.” Protesters have been staging mass sit-ins in Hong Kong for more than two months, demanding free leadership elections for the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
China’s communist authorities insist candidates for the 2017 vote must be vetted by a loyalist committee, which the protesters say will ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.
Police said they had made 40 arrests overnight. As the morning rush-hour approached, hundreds of protesters — many of them sleeping — remained spread across Lung Wo Road, a major traffic artery connecting the east and west of Hong Kong island.
A police spokesman said the road was “illegally occupied” and that officers would move to clear it.
Several protesters were injured in the overnight clashes. One was seen led away by police with a bloodied face, while others were tended to by first-aid volunteers after being fired at with pepper spray.
Protesters wore builders’ hard hats and used umbrellas — which have come to symbolise the pro-democracy movement — to shield themselves from the pepper spray. Police had to dodge helmets and bottles that were lobbed through the air.
Meanwhile, pro-democracy protest leader Joshua Wong and two other leaders from the student group Scholarism announced that they have gone on hunger strike.