Hong Kong police clashed with democracy protesters early Wednesday as officers cleared a park encampment and a tunnel that demonstrators had blocked on a major road outside the city’s government headquarters.
Dozens of demonstrators, mostly university students, were hauled away from the underpass on Lung Wo Road and in nearby Tamar Park as hundreds of police moved in before dawn ahead of the morning commute. Hours earlier, police used sledgehammers and chain saws to clear barricades from Queensway Road, reopening the main artery leading to the central financial district for the first time since the protests began two weeks.
“Absolute chaos reported in Tamar Park; protesters retreating as Hong Kong police advance, making arrests and firing pepper spray,” one Twitter user posted to #OccupyHK.
An Agence France-Presse photographer captured an officer spraying the chemical directly into the face of a protester standing with his hands up. A second photo showed the protester with his hands over his eyes as he was led away.
CCTV America reported later Wednesday morning that protesters had reoccupied Lung Wo Road.
Police said they acted because the protesters were disrupting public order and gathering illegally.
Forty-five people — 37 men and 8 women — were arrested during the assault. Four officers were hurt by protesters kicking or hitting them with umbrellas, but none of those arrested were injured, police spokesman Tsui Wai-Hung told local television.
“I have to stress here that even though protesters raised their hands in their air it does not mean it was a peaceful protest,” he said.
A video posted to YouTube, however, shows a protester being led away by plainclothes police who then punch and kick him away from the crowd.
Activists continue to occupy encampments in the Admiralty and Mong Kok districts.
The civil disobedience began Sept. 28 to oppose having a pro-Beijing committee screen candidates for the 2017 election for chief executive, the semiautonomous territory’s first vote for its top leader.
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