A police crackdown on street vendors led to rioting and confrontation on the streets of Hong Kong yesterday. Monday marked the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year, but the public action on the streets resulted in widespread, ongoing protests – violent in nature.
Several people were injured, and the district of Mong Kok – which saw the majority of the disturbance – remained on lockdown for a short period. Police sources reported some 48 officers were injured, with 24 people arrested.
During the incident, street stalls selling food – a tradition for Chinese New Year – were targeted by police with orders to close them down. A confrontation quickly ensued.
It is reported bricks were thrown, and fires started, and that security forces responded with tear gas. The Hong Kong government “strongly condemned” those taking part in the protests.
Warning shots were reported to have been fired in the air by officers increasingly agitated by brick-throwing protestors. In what is considered a rare occurrence in normally-civil Hong Kong, pictures were posted on social media of officers with weapons drawn and pointed at civilians.
The area affected is one of the busiest commercial districts in the city. On the mainland side of Victoria Harbour, Mong Kok in Kowloon is known for its shopping and visitor attractions. During the disturbance, the metro station closest to the area was closed for a time in an attempt to keep people away from the area.
The relationship between the Hong Kong police and its population has been under severe strain of late. Widespread protests – widely labelled the “Umbrella Revolution” – took place in autumn 2014 over the perceived increasing influence of Chinese central government over the traditionally semi-autonomous city.
The New York Times quoted a Hong Kong government spokesman, who said in response to the latest disturbances: “mobs would be apprehended and brought to justice.”