Pro-democracy protesters faced off against supporters of Chinese rule in Hong Kong’s teeming Mong Kok district early on Saturday, in a tense confrontation that has undermined hopes for talks aimed at ending a week of turmoil.
Scuffles broke out late on Friday between people demanding full democracy in the former British colony, including a free voting system when they come to choose a new leader in 2017, and residents who want the demonstrations to end.
Protesters said they believed criminal gangs, or Triads, whose base is in the densely populated Mong Kok, were involved.
Police intervened to prevent an escalation in the violence, but a rowdy crowd of around two thousand filled a major intersection in the small hours of Saturday and the atmosphere remained highly charged as police officers in riot gear tried to keep them under control.
Demonstrations across Hong Kong have ebbed and flowed since Sunday, when police used pepper spray, tear gas and batons to break them up in the worst unrest in Hong Kong since the former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997.
At times, tens of thousands of people gathered to block roads and buildings in central areas, bringing them to a virtual standstill.
Student activists, established protest groups and ordinary Hong Kongers have joined forces to present Beijing with one of its biggest political challenges since it violently crushed pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
One of the main student groups behind the “Occupy Central” protest movement said it would pull out of planned talks with the Hong Kong government, because it believed authorities had colluded in the attacks on demonstrators in Mong Kok.