Pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong vow to continue protesting as hundreds of masked men opposed to the movement tore down protest barriers and clashed with police in city's financial district Monday, sparking renewed accusations that authorities are using hired thugs to disperse demonstrators.
As demonstrations carried into a third week, taxi drivers and street workers opposed to protests which have negatively affected their business attempted to remove a barricade at one road, demanding an end to the disruptions.
"Open the roads!" chanted a crowd, giving protesters a deadline of Wednesday evening for all barricades to be lifted.
"I used to support the movement, but then my business was affected...what they did is useless anyway," said taxi driver Lee, 25, who estimates he has lost 60 percent of his business.
Earlier in the day, police had dismantled some barricades to relieve traffic congestion in the Asian financial hub, but said protesters could remain.
Taking advantage of the police action, several anti-Occupy Central groups, many wearing surgical masks, descended on the protest sites in an attempt to disperse demonstrators, triggering clashes with protesters after the police had removed some barriers. According to Fox News, some protesters believe the attacks were co-ordinated and may have involved triad Asian crime gangs.
Demonstrators, who have come under attack from organised crime gangs known as triads at another demonstration site in Mongkok, shouted: "Weapons! Weapons!" and "Arrest the triads" as police struggled to impose order, according to AFP.
Although the scuffle between the two groups was broken up by police, demonstrators refused to discontinue protests, fortifying their blockades by mixing concrete to pour over the foundations of their road blocks.
"This shows our determination to fight for democracy," said Bert Tseng, a university student who has been at the protests for the past two weeks.
"We've now reached a stage where even if they dismantle everything and clear the roads, we'll just regroup and do it somewhere else. They can't demolish our spirit."
"We will stay and defend. We will stay here until the end," added a 25-year-old pro-democracy protester named John, as he repaired damaged barriers.
The protesters, mostly students, are demanding full democracy and have called on the city's leader, Leung Chun-ying, to step down after Beijing in August ruled out free elections for Hong Kong's next leader in 2017.
The city's government backed out of negotiations after promising to meet with pro-democracy student leaders, stating it was not ready to discuss their demands for democracy and insisting that "illegal" occupation of the streets must end before negotiations could begin.
Undeterred by the government's decision and the many groups opposing the movement, the charismatic student leader Joshua Wong, who turned 18 on Monday, told the crowds, "If short-term protests won't work, there will be long-term protests... There is no losing."