Rioters in Hong Kong clashed with police on Tuesday amid violent scenes during the three-day Chinese New Year holiday.
As rioters set fires and threw bricks at cops, police fired warning shots in the Mong Kok district in order to contain the crowds.
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Forty-four officers were injured, with 24 people arrested. A government statement said there were several hundred rioters involved.
“The situation ran out of control and became a riot,” Yau said. “As police officers saw their lives under serious threat, without any other alternatives, two gunshots were fired as a warning.” Mong Kok is in Kowloon on the north side of Victoria Harbour.
The riot broke out late Monday after police were called to assist in a clampdown on illegal hawking in Mong Kok, a densely-populated area covering less than a square mile which is linked to organized crime and vice. Batons and pepper spray initially failed to stop protesters from blocking part of Nathan Road, a main thoroughfare. Journalists were also attacked, the police said, without giving further details.
MTR Corp., operator of the city’s subway, said Mong Kok station had now reopened. The Hong Kong government issued a statement condemning the violence and urging police to arrest rioters.
The clashes are the most violent since the “Umbrella Movement” of 2014, where protesters paralyzed downtown Hong Kong for more than two months to demand a free choice for the city’s leader. Those protests were kick-started when student leaders stormed the premises of the government headquarters and drew as many as 100,000 people after police used tear gas. It became the biggest challenge to China’s rule over Hong Kong since it resumed sovereignty over the former British colony in 1997.
Mong Kok saw some of the most violent clashes of the 2014 protests.
Given the events of 2014 and the government’s refusal to engage in dialogue with the opposition it is inevitable to see a gradual tendency toward more militant attitudes and tactics by protesters, said James Rice, an assistant professor of philosophy and law at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University.
”The events of last night and the manner in which the police reacted is also a reflection of the shift that can be seen in the Hong Kong police force,” he said. “Since the umbrella movement they have been moving toward a far more confrontational position in terms of managing crowds and protests.”