NPR logo Makeshift Barriers Highlight Unions, Divisions Over Hong Kong Protests

International

Makeshift Barriers Highlight Unions, Divisions Over Hong Kong Protests

Police forces remove pro-democracy barricades in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong at dawn on Tuesday. Police armed with bolt cutters, chainsaws and sledgehammers made a renewed attempt to remove barricades along a stretch of the main protest site held by pro-democracy demonstrators for the past two weeks. Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Police forces remove pro-democracy barricades in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong at dawn on Tuesday. Police armed with bolt cutters, chainsaws and sledgehammers made a renewed attempt to remove barricades along a stretch of the main protest site held by pro-democracy demonstrators for the past two weeks.

Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 10:12 a.m. ET.

Hundreds of Hong Kong police were seen using chainsaws and other equipment Tuesday morning local time to break down barricades made by pro-democracy protesters lining downtown streets.

Groups of people opposed to the protesters also turned out to try to clear the streets.

NPR's Frank Langfitt, reporting from a tent camp in downtown Hong Kong, tells Morning Edition:

"You had taxi drivers, truck drivers, some men wearing surgical masks — some of the protesters thought they were thugs – as well as some ordinary folks here in Hong Kong who do support the government. They came out and they started tearing up the barricades. They brought in a crane, actually, to lift up some of the barricades."

Many of them say it isn't about politics, Frank adds. They say they've lost business because the protesters have blocked roads for weeks as they demand open elections.

Thousands of demonstrators have packed parts of downtown Hong Kong. And white-collar workers dressed in suits and ties reportedly turned out on their breaks Monday night to assist the protesters and prevent police from tearing down the barriers.

Article continues after sponsorship

"This is to protect our democracy, to protect our future," accountant Patrick Chan told The New York Times. "The government doesn't listen to the Hong Kong people, so we must do this."

The barricades are made of everything from metal scaffolding to bamboo to street signs. Students and their supporters fashioned temporary walls from trash cans, ripped-up carpets and even umbrellas, the symbol of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

But other Hong Kong citizens decided Monday that they'd had enough of the protests, which have clogged city streets in busy areas like Central, the main financial district, Causeway Bay and Admiralty for two weeks.

Witnesses saw opponents tearing down two larger barriers near the Pacific Place Shopping Mall in the Admiralty district before the police arrived.

Several of the people demolishing the structures were said to be members of the "triads," the city's local organized crime gangs. The Associated Press reported that protesters were shouting "Triads!" as their barriers were broken down.

Protesters had reinforced many of their barricades with plastic and bamboo overnight, but authorities continued to remove them Tuesday morning with wire cutters and electric saws.

Earlier, Hong Kong's leaders suggested the protesters move their camps to a few local parks and offered assistance.

"Illegal occupation of roads should end to avoid prolonging the serious repercussions caused to people's daily lives and work," the government said in a statement Monday.

Hong Kong is 12 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast.

The protesters are promising to rebuild their barriers. The demonstrations, which started on Sept. 28, are in response to a pro-Beijing committee that will screen candidates for the 2017 election. The movement is also calling for Hong Kong's Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, to resign.