HONG KONG - Pro-democracy demonstrations in two of Hong Kong's most crowded shopping districts came under attack Friday from unidentified men who assaulted protesters and tore down their encampments, after a week of erratic and unsuccessful attempts by the Beijing-backed government to end the protests.
The protesters said the attackers were pro-government gangs, and several protest groups called off planned negotiations with the government in response.
This morning a police spokesman said 19 men, including eight with links to organized crime syndicates, had been arrested in connection with the violence in one of the districts, Mong Kok, according to Radio Television Hong Kong. Some residents, fed up with the inconveniences of the protests, had cheered on the attacks on the camps.
Brawls also broke out at another protest encampment, in the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay.
The police said at least 18 people were injured in the violence, including six police officers.
A week after the protests began with a student rally, the pro-democracy movement and the government were showing increasing signs of wear and desperation. The Hong Kong authorities, meanwhile, have resorted to one contradictory tactic after another in trying to end the demonstrations: sending in riot police officers with tear gas one day, pulling them back the next, refusing in principle to talk to protesters, then calling for talks, disclosing a plan to wait out the protests, then appearing ill prepared and tardy as the protesters were attacked.
The new elements injected on Friday were the gangs of attackers, who entered the fray a day after China's Communist Party warned that there would be "chaos" in Hong Kong if the protests did not end.
The protesters want the Chinese government to reverse a decision requiring all candidates in the first election for Hong Kong's leader in 2017 to be approved by a committee.