Multiple arrests in Hong Kong as "flashmob" protests hit pro-Bejing targets

Jasmine LEUNG, Jerome TAYLOR
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Police clear barricades left by protestors. Clashes between police and activists were less intense than at the start of October when the city was virtually shut down

Riot police clashed with anti-government protesters across Hong Kong Sunday as masked activists vandalised businesses deemed sympathetic to Beijing in another weekend of chaos in the financial hub.

Rallies erupted in multiple neighbourhoods, with some protesters blocking roads, sabotaging train tracks, and trashing pro-China businesses.

Police said an officer was taken to hospital after his neck was slashed. Local television networks also broadcast footage of a man beaten bloody by protesters after they found a baton in his bag and suspected him of being an undercover officer.

Police have increasingly posed as protesters, scoring some tactical successes and sparking widespread paranoia among frontline demonstrators.

During cat-and-mouse encounters on Sunday officers made dozens of arrests, but there were fewer protesters than have taken to the streets more recently during the four-month long protest movement.

In Mongkok, a bustling shopping district on the Kowloon peninsula, officers burst from an unmarked van over a blockade of bamboo scaffolding and quickly chased down multiple protesters.

Later, an AFP reporter in the neighbourhood saw protesters beat a woman earlier accused of helping police clear barricades.

The woman was struck with fists and umbrellas, and also had her face smeared with mud.

Protesters have increasingly turned on their ideological opponents in recent weeks, while Beijing loyalists have attacked democracy activists throughout the summer.

- 'Blossom everywhere' -

Online forums used to organise the largely leaderless movement advertised Sunday as a "blossom everywhere" day, encouraging activists to gather in malls across the city.

Protests and clashes were reported in half a dozen neighbourhoods, with police saying they fired tear gas during two incidents.

While the crowds were thinner, the flashmob tactics stretched police resources and still brought chaos to parts of the city for a 19th consecutive weekend.

Throughout the day, police found themselves berated and heckled by bystanders as they made arrests, highlighting how the force has become loathed and pilloried by large parts of the population.

"I’m furious," a female protester, who gave her surname as Chan, told AFP. "I want the government to disband the entire police force."

Hong Kong has been shaken by four months of massive democracy protests which have seen increasingly violent clashes between hardcore demonstrators and police, as well as regular transport disruptions.

The protests were sparked by opposition to a now-scrapped proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China, but have since morphed into a larger movement for democracy and police accountability.

- Spiralling violence -

The city enjoys unique rights under the terms of its handover to China by Britain in 1997 -- including freedom of expression and an independent judiciary -- but many believe these are under threat from an increasingly assertive Beijing.

Street battles between riot police and small groups of protesters have become a weekly occurrence, hammering the already struggling economy, spooking tourists and undermining Hong Kong's reputation for stability.

The beginning of October saw a particularly fierce period of unrest with protesters upping their violence as Communist China celebrated its 70th birthday party.

Clashes further intensified after the city's leader invoked colonial-era emergency laws to ban face masks at protests.

Over the course of a week, protesters went on a vandalism spree, much of it targeting the city's subway network and pro-China businesses.

Police also increased their response, firing tear gas and rubber bullets with renewed ferocity. Two teenagers were wounded with live rounds during clashes with police.

But the last few days have seen a comparatively calmer period.

Protesters are pushing for an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for the more than 2,500 people arrested and universal suffrage.

Beijing, and city leader Carrie Lam, repeatedly rejected those demands.