HONG KONG — Hong Kong riot police struggled to hold back hundreds of defiant pro-democracy activists who returned to a district that officers had partially cleared earlier Friday.
Police used pepper spray and batons to fend off a huge crowd that had gathered in Mong Kok, and several protesters were seen knocked to the ground or carried away by police.
One protester was seen bleeding from his forehead as he was carried to a police van, moments after he was forced to the ground by officers. Neither side appeared willing to back down as police and activists engaged in running clashes stretching into Saturday in the working class neighborhood's dense grid of streets. In scenes repeated throughout the evening, officers used batons to beat back umbrellas used by the crowd of young protesters to defend themselves from pepper spray.
"The police have lost control. They are beating up protesters like we're animals. We are angry. The students are our future," said Tommy Lee, a 45-year-old technology worker who was outraged at seeing police handcuff four protesters who appeared to be high school students.
Police said three officers were injured. Dozens of protesters were taken away, though it was unclear how many were hurt.
The chaotic scenes unfolded hours after police had moved in to clear tents, canopies and barricades at Mong Kok, a smaller protest zone across Victoria Harbor from the main occupied area in the heart of the financial district.
Mong Kok's protest zone had been home to a rowdier, more radical crowd less willing to follow student leaders, making it the most volatile of the three areas occupied since Sept. 26 by Hong Kong democracy protesters.
The dawn operation — the third in recent days by police to retake streets from protesters — came after Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying sought to defuse the bitter standoff with the protesters on Thursday by reviving an offer of talks over democratic reforms in the city.
However, Leung warned that police wouldn't refrain from clearing protest sites while holding talks. The latest clashes were likely to make it harder to resolve the crisis with protesters, who were already angered by a video of a group of officers kicking a handcuffed activist.
Protesters are pressing for a greater say in choosing the semiautonomous Chinese city's leader in an inaugural direct election, promised for 2017.
Students and activists oppose Beijing's ruling that a committee stacked with pro-Beijing elites should screen candidates in the election. That effectively means that Beijing can vet candidates before they go to a public vote.