Fresh clashes broke out Wednesday between Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrators and opponents as expectations grew that police were preparing to clear the occupied zones.
Two men were detained by police in the Admiralty district near Hong Kong government headquarters after allegedly throwing animal organs at Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a protest supporter. A third man, who suffered a wound to his forehead, was taken to a hospital.
Lai, who has shown up regularly in Admiralty since protests began in late September, was attacked while sitting in one of the about 2,000 tents now in the area. Witnesses said the men swore at Lai before they threw several bags of animal organs at his head and arms.
Dozens of protest supporters then attacked the three men. Witnesses said sit-in supporters handed the men over to police with their hands bound with plastic straps.
Lai said he would not stop visiting the protest zone, adding. “It is only smelly, but I am fine.”
Demonstrators in Hong Kong took to the streets in late September to express their anger over rules laid out by Beijing a month before for the 2017 election of the territory’s chief executive. Protesters oppose requirements that candidates must be pre-approved by a screening committee expected to be comprised mainly of pro-Beijing members.
On Wednesday, President Xi Jinping repeated his position that the Hong Kong protests were “illegal.”
Speaking at a news conference with President Obama in Beijing as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit concluded, Xi declared: “Hong Kong affairs are exclusively China’s internal affairs, and foreign countries should not interfere in those affairs in any form or fashion.”
“And I think it goes without saying that law and order must be maintained according to law in any place, not just in Hong Kong, but also elsewhere in the world,” he added.
Obama expressed support for the right of free expression but said “these are issues ultimately for the people of Hong Kong and China to decide.”
The news conference was not carried live in its entirety by state-run media.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying also met with the media in Beijing after a closed-door meeting with the mainland’s point man on the territory, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director Wang Guangya. Leung said that police would execute a court order to help clear protest sites if necessary in the coming days.
He reiterated that the central government fully understood different views from Hong Kong citizens. He said he would submit a report to Wang’s office “as soon as possible” on the views of people in the territory regarding the 2017 election rules.
Three leaders of the protests said Wednesday that they would turn themselves in to police – perhaps next week -- in a bid to show respect for the rule of law and would accept the legal consequences of their civil disobedience campaign.
But leaders of another key protest group, the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said they disagreed with any planned surrender.
Hui is a special correspondent.