HONG KONG (CNN) — Thousands crammed into the streets of Hong Kong’s central business district Saturday night as pro-democracy protests stretched to a week. The fresh rally came just hours after the city’s leader issued a fresh ultimatum: Clear out before Monday, or else.
Demonstrators swarmed the main protest site in the Admiralty district to hear evening speeches, defying memories of violent clashes with protest opponents the previous night, as well as city leaders’ insistence that they disperse and let Hong Kong’s life and commerce return to normal.
Protest leaders backed out of negotiations with government officials after the largely peaceful demonstrations turned violent Friday. Opponents of the protests barreled into a secondary protest area in the Mong Kok district that night, tearing down tents and scuffling with demonstrators; dozens were injured.
The attacks have strained relations as demonstrators say police officers failed to protect them when they were assaulted; police accuse protesters of escalating the situation.
The patience of Hong Kong’s leaders was wearing thin Saturday. Chief Executive C.Y. Leung — under pressure from protesters demanding his resignation — took to television Saturday evening to once again demand that protesters disperse immediately.
But his demand now came with a deadline: The streets must be clear by Monday so that schools, shops and offices could resume their work, he said.
“The government and the police have the responsibilities and determination to take all necessary actions to restore social order,” Leung said in his televised address.
Pro-democracy activists are demonstrating for universal suffrage in Hong Kong and the right to directly choose candidates for elected office — rather than having China choose the eligible candidates. They’ve also called for the resignation of Leung, whom the protesters view as a puppet of Beijing.
Leung said protesters blocked 3,000 government employees from going to work Friday, blocking all entrances to the city’s chief executive office building — something he said would not be repeated Monday.
“There are numerous social problems to be solved, but the proper way is through rational communication, finding commonalities and preserving differences — not through resistance on (The) street that worsens the problem,” he said.
Protest leaders: Police didn’t stop attackers
Health officials said more than 50 people were injured in Friday’s protests, which were punctuated by scuffles between protesters and counter-protesters in Mong Kok, a tightly packed district of shops and residences surrounding one of the city’s busiest intersections.
At least 19 people were arrested, police said, on suspicion of crimes including fighting in public places, unlawful assembly and assault.
Protester Edward Tsoi said that police stood by and failed to take action Friday night when some students were attacked and beaten, and when some were sexually assaulted.
Throughout the day Saturday, small skirmishes continued with mainly older residents — appearing in their 40s or 50s — yelling at the youngsters sitting by the main tent in the Mong Kok protest area. One older man swore at the students, repeatedly cursing at them as “kids causing trouble.”
Critics of the pro-democracy movement, called Occupy Central, say the weeklong demonstrations have hurt the economy and small businesses, and clogged traffic and daily operations of the city.
Student leaders say they refuse to negotiate with the government until there is an explanation of police action.
Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old leader of student group Scholarism, told CNN’s Kristie Lu Stout that the Hong Kong government should “pay responsibility of this accident.”
Assistant Commissioner of Police Cheung Tak-keung rejected the protesters’ claims, saying the accusations were “totally unfounded and extremely unfair to police officers who faithfully and diligently performed their duty at the scene.”
He said police separated the two parties and set up a buffer area to prevent further injuries.
In the seven days of protest, more than 150 people have been injured, and 12 were in a hospital as of 2 p.m. Saturday, the city’s information services department said.
The U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong issued an advisory, warning U.S. citizens “to avoid all protest areas due to the potential risk of escalating violence.”
Counter-protester: ‘It’s anarchy’
A few dozen people who oppose the protests peacefully walked to a police station Saturday morning with blue ribbons — which signify solidarity with the officers.
“We need order. We know what they want. Why do they still stay?” said one of them, retired police officer Yan pak Yu. “Go to the park. Go the playground. Don’t obstruct the daily operations of Hong Kong.”
Another resident, Peter Bentley, a retiree added: “It’s anarchy. These are our streets. What I oppose is anarchy.”
What protesters want
Demonstrators are upset with a recently enacted policy giving Beijing veto power on who can run as a candidate for the chief executive role in the 2017 election.
A new electoral system will, for the first time, let the city’s 5 million eligible voters pick a winner, rather than a 1,200-member committee stacked with Beijing loyalists that has chosen past leaders.
But critics argue that the right to vote is pointless if the candidates are handpicked by Beijing. They complain the Chinese government is encroaching too much on the affairs of Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory ruled according to the “one country, two systems” policy since Britain handed over Hong Kong in 1997.
Beijing condemns the protests as “illegal acts” and in a Saturday editorial of People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, dismissed the movement as “no more than a daydream.”
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