Screaming until they were red in the face, arguing until they burst into tears, supporters and opponents of Hong Kong’s democracy protests faced off Friday afternoon in the dense commercial district of Mong Kok.
“Get out!” yelled dozens of men, pumping their fists and urging police to clear the intersection of Nathan and Argyle roads, a busy interchange with banks on each corner and shuttered jewelry shops and restaurants nearby.
Police struggled to keep the situation from erupting into a riot as periodic punches were thrown, water bottles were lobbed and curses hurled. As the afternoon wore on, the crowd swelled to perhaps 10,000.
“This is kind of the last stand,” said Adrian O’Sullivan, who moved to Hong Kong from Manchester, Britain, three years ago and has been joining in the democracy demonstrations all week. “This was the first spot on this side [of Victoria Harbor] where spontaneous protests broke out after people couldn’t get to Hong Kong Island to join the demonstrations there. We have to hold this.”
Mark Ledford, a tourist from Orange County, spent the afternoon taking in the scene at the intersection. “I don’t have politics when I’m on vacation, I like to say,” said Ledford, who runs a kids gym business in Rancho Santa Margarita and experienced tear gas earlier in the week when police clashed with protesters. “But I support what the students are doing out here.”
As a business owner, Ledford said he understood some proprietors may be upset about how the ongoing demonstrations have curtailed business, but ultimately, he said, the foundations of enterprise depend on the kind of government protesters are seeking.
At 5:30 p.m., a red canopy tent at the Nathan and Argyle intersection was torn down and police, linked arm in arm, opened up a lane of traffic. Several buses, which had been halted in the intersection for days and covered with pro-democracy fliers, were driven out of the area.
A small group of democracy demonstrators seemed to be encircled in the main intersection by opponents and police.