HONG KONG, Nov 19 – A small group of masked protesters stormed Hong Kong’s government headquarters in the early hours of Wednesday, using metal barricades and hurling concrete slabs to smash through a glass door. Other protesters charged police lines, leading to police to respond with pepper spray and batons.
In a statement, the government denounced the acts of the protesters, referring to them repeatedly as “violent radicals.” It said six people were arrested, and vowed “further arrests would be made.” The break-in was an uncharacteristically aggressive action by protesters in a movement that has frequently been praised for its politeness. In the previous seven weeks of demonstrations, not a single window of any building had been broken.
Pro-democracy legislator Fernando Cheung, who tried to physically stop the protesters, said it was a “major setback for the movement.” “I threw myself in front of them, I told them this would only hurt the movement, that this whole campaign is about demanding genuine democracy which has nothing to do with breaking into Legislative Council,” he told CNN.
“I understand they wanted to scale up the action, but they didn’t understand that that would only destroy the campaign.” Occupy Central for Love and Peace, the group that originated the idea for occupying downtown Hong Kong, now nicknamed the “Umbrella Movement” said it “strongly condemned” the attack on the complex.
“We urge participants of the Umbrella Movement to remember our original intention, to persist in non-violent resistance,” it said in an emailed statement. Student leaders, who didn’t take part in the incident, blamed poor communication between protesters. “The act last night didn’t coordinate well… even the occupiers disagree with the act,” Hong Kong Federation of Students leader Alex Chow told CNN.
Some members of Hong Kong’s popular online forums, frustrated by the protracted stalemate, put out calls for protesters to storm the government building late Tuesday night. The incident came after a section of the main protest site was cleared Tuesday morning following a court injunction that allowed bailiffs to remove barricades outside one office tower. Hong Kong’s Legislative Council said it would reschedule its meetings and canceled public tours for the day.