HONG KONG >> Tensions spiked at democracy protests that have gripped Hong Kong for nearly two months as a small group of activists clashed with police while trying to break into the city’s legislature early Wednesday.
Police detained six people in the overnight clashes and warned of more arrests. The scuffles came hours after authorities enforced a court order to clear some barricades from a small section of a nearby site occupied by pro-democracy activists.
The clashes underscored mounting frustration as the protests calling for free elections in China’s semiautonomous territory drag on for more than 50 days with no end in sight.
Protest leaders distanced themselves from and condemned the violence, which was apparently organized through an Internet forum known to attract people with radical views. But they also blamed the Hong Kong government for angering demonstrators by failing to respond to their demands.
The protesters used metal barricades and concrete slabs to smash glass doors at the legislature before police used pepper spray, batons and riot shields to push them back. Police said the protesters repeatedly charged their cordon and injured three officers.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung tried to intervene, but was pulled aside by protesters.
"We can’t agree with the reason for taking this action," said Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old leader of Scholarism, one of two student groups leading the protests.
A third group involved in organizing the protests, Occupy Central, said that those responsible for the violence misled the crowd into attacking the legislature by spreading "false information." Rumors were reportedly circulating that lawmakers were scheduled to pass a bill that could restrict Internet freedom, when in reality the bill is still being discussed.
The student-led democracy protesters reject restrictions laid down by Beijing on inaugural 2017 elections for Hong Kong’s top leader. But the students have been fighting to maintain momentum as the Hong Kong government appears to adopt a strategy of standing by in hopes it fizzles out.
The students’ requests to talk to China’s Communist leaders in Beijing have been rebuffed and three student leaders were prevented from flying to the Chinese capital on the weekend.
Authorities are expected to enforce a separate court order later this week requiring removal of some barricades from a second protest site in the Mong Kok district.