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Mobs angry over disruption confront Hong Kong protesters

HONG KONG — An angry crowd opposed to pro-democracy protests that have paralysed parts of Hong Kong for more than two weeks charged barricades used by the demonstrators yesterday, clashing with the police as they attempted to storm the protest zone.

HONG KONG — An angry crowd opposed to pro-democracy protests that have paralysed parts of Hong Kong for more than two weeks charged barricades used by the demonstrators yesterday, clashing with the police as they attempted to storm the protest zone.

Scuffles broke out as about two dozen men wearing surgical masks to hide their faces tried to forcefully remove the metal barricades that protesters have set up to block off main roads near the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district. Some were seen using box cutters to snap cables connecting the barricades.

Several hundreds of the protesters’ rivals rushed up to the barricades, punching their fists in the air and chanting “Open the road!” They also shouted “Occupy Central is illegal”, referring to one of the names of the pro-democracy movement that has swept Hong Kong.

Taxi drivers joined in, some driving their cabs up to the barricades and leaning on their horns to express their anger about the traffic disruptions.

A line of police officers held the crowd back, keeping them separated from the protesters on the other side of the barriers. This is the second time the police had to come between mobs of angry men seeking to get rid of the protesters since the rallies started Sept 26.

“I’ve lost about 30 per cent to 40 per cent of business” since the protests started, said Mr Ku Tak-man, a cab driver at the barricades. “They are blocking my roads. I am here after hearing the call on the radio on my taxi.”

The road blockades at the three protest sites have disrupted 40 per cent of bus routes and led to miles of rush-hour traffic jams. Other than Admiralty, protesters are also blocking roads in the shopping districts of Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.

A coalition of truck drivers last week gave demonstrators a deadline of Oct 15 to open the roads or they would tear down barricades. Nine associations that control 70 per cent of the city’s 120,000 trucks are part of the coalition.

Protester Alex Kwok said he received a scratch on his arm after he was attacked by several men whom he accused of being members of triads, or organised crime gangs. This is not the first time triads were reported to be in action against the protesters.

There were reports of Anti-Occupy Central groups beginning to gather around the protest site in Mong Kok in the Kowloon area of Hong Kong, which presents “special challenges given the heavy triad influence in this area and the congested nature of the streets”, said Mr Steve Vickers, the former commander of Hong Kong’s Criminal Intelligence Bureau and now a private security consultant.

Later yesterday evening, protesters added more bamboo-pole lattices to their barricades as reinforcements, sawing off the ends of some of the longer poles to give them long-sharp points. If the protesters wield the poles as pikes, they could make it considerably more dangerous for the police or others to try to disperse and remove them. That possibility could in turn prompt the police to use greater levels of force than the batons they might otherwise employ.

Mr Vickers said in a statement that “the longer that Occupy Central movement continues to disrupt daily life in Hong Kong, the more likely that civilian-on-civilian clashes will occur and with that, the probability that decisive force will be required by the police to end the occupation”.

The police yesterday took away some masked men inside the protest zone who tried to pick fights with the protesters and later said they arrested three men, aged 18 to 47, at the clashes on suspicion of assault and carrying weapons. It was not immediately clear who convened the anti-protest crowd.

Demonstrators have flooded Hong Kong’s streets since Sept 26 in a civil disobedience movement opposing restrictions on the first direct election for the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s leader, promised by Beijing for 2017. They want the authorities to drop a plan to use a pro-Beijing committee to screen candidates in the election. AGENCIES

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