The Lunar New Year holiday celebrations in Hong Kong on Monday were met with violence as police officers and protesters clashed in Mong Kok district. According to authorities, civil unrest erupted after police tried to remove the illegal food vendors operating in the area.
As reported by the New York Times, hundreds of people flocked the district to dine on the food stalls lining the streets, which is considered by many as a holiday tradition. However, on Monday evening, the Hong Kong police force descended on Mong Kok with orders to shut down the street vendors without proper licenses.
The clash on Lunar New Year between protesters and police was very reminiscent of the pro-democracy rallies held by the public in 2014.
The operators of the stalls, together with the people in the streets, fought back by throwing glass bottles and bricks at the advancing police officers. Others threw garbage cans, wooden shipping pallets and plastic barriers to keep the law enforcers at bay.
The authorities then responded by using their batons and pepper spray. They also reportedly fired off two warning shots to disperse the public. According to a spokesperson for the Hong Kong police, about 48 officers were injured due to the actions of the protesters.
But, by Tuesday morning, they were able to arrest over 50 individuals who were part of the mob. The spokesperson noted that the age of the apprehended protesters ranged from 17 to 70 years old. They were charged with assault, public disorder and resisting arrest.
Although some believe the confrontation erupted as the people reacted to the actions of the police, authorities are currently investigating if the protest was planned. Some reports indicated that members of the Hong Kong-based localism movement, a group which calls for Hong Kong's territorial independence from China, joined the protest and provoked the public to behave violently, Time has learned.
Some of the protesters and vendors argued that the Hong Kong government's action against the food stalls is a sign that Beijing's influence on the autonomous region's management is growing stronger. They said that Hong Kong is beginning to lose its own cultural identity through operations such as this.
Authorities, however, maintained that the crackdown on the vendors was carried out due to concerns about public health and hygiene.
The clashes on Monday is considered as the most violent confrontation between protesters and police since 2014. On that year, Mong Kok also became one of the main venues in Hong Kong occupied by supporters of the pro-democracy movement, also known as the Umbrella Revolution, The Wall Street Journal reported.