Hong Kong police remove kicking, screaming protesters

Demonstrators sit in a street of the central district after a pro-democracy rally seeking greater democracy in Hong Kong on July 1, 2014.
Philippe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images
Demonstrators sit in a street of the central district after a pro-democracy rally seeking greater democracy in Hong Kong on July 1, 2014.

Hundreds of police forcibly removed kicking and screaming protesters from the Central business district on Wednesday, holdouts of an all-night sit-in on the heels of a mass rally demanding greater democracy from Communist Party rulers in Beijing.

The pro-democracy march on Tuesday, which organizers said attracted more than 510,000 people, and the subsequent sit-in by mainly student groups could be the biggest challenge yet to China which resumed control over the former British colony in 1997.

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Many of the more than 1,000 protesters linked arms in a bid to resist efforts to remove them but they were taken away one at a time, in some cases by three or four police, as activists kicked, screamed and punched before being bundled on to buses.

"I have the right to protest. We don't need police permission," the crowd chanted as they sat sweltering in Hong Kong's summer heat and humidity.

The activists were taken in buses to the police training school in Hong Kong, although it was unclear how many arrests had been made or how long they would be detained.

"Our purpose is first universal suffrage and second to let the government respond to Hong Kong citizens' voice for democracy," said Frank Chio, a representative of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

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"This is only step one, there will be other steps."

In one of the first moves of what is expected to be a hot political summer in Hong Kong, the demonstrators were demanding greater democracy in elections for the city's leader, or chief executive, in 2017.

They want nominations to be open to everyone. China's leaders want to ensure only pro-Beijing candidates are on the ballot.

Hong Kong returned to China with wide-ranging autonomy under the formula of "one country, two systems", allowing protests such as Tuesday's march to take place.

But China bristles at open dissent, especially over sensitive matters such as demands for universal suffrage and the annual June 4 vigil in Hong Kong to mark the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989.

Such protests, even by one or two people, would be met by stern punishment elsewhere in China.

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Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Tuesday his government would do its "utmost" to move towards universal suffrage and stressed the need for stability. Beijing's Liaison Office in Hong Kong said China "firmly supported" universal suffrage for Hong Kong, and "its sincerity and determination is unswerving".

Volunteer lawyer Jonathan Man, who was at the police training school to support activists, said up to 500 people may have been taken away, although some would likely just fill in forms and would then be allowed to leave.

Twenty to 30 core activists, such as those who spoke on the stage at the rally, were not allowed to leave, Man said.

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Police had warned protesters that failure to evacuate Central might end in arrest and prosecution.

One man took to a stage and shouted: "The whole world will know how ugly the Hong Kong police are."

The protest threatened to disrupt traffic as people returned to work following a public holiday on Tuesday to mark the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China.

Some buildings in the area, including HSBC's headquarters, were ringed by barriers, although these were largely cleared as business resumed.