A few Hong Kong students now a 'tidal wave of anger'
When 1,200 university students calmly staged a sit-in outside Hong Kong's government offices on Friday to call for greater democracy, no one foresaw the chain of events that transformed the city into a battlefield wreathed with tear gas just 48 hours later.
But as the police desperately and aggressively tried to disperse the protesters, they only succeeded in inflaming a public already angry at Beijing's creeping interference in their lives.
The first mistake came when officers pepper-sprayed students in front of the television cameras. In one video clip that went viral, an elderly lady who had come to observe the protest was swivelled around by a police man who then sprayed her in the face.
Soon, thousands of people flocked to the government compound to watch what was going on, chanting to the police: "Don't harm the students!"
Many of the tens of thousands who occupied downtown Hong Kong through Sunday and Monday said they had come after seeing the violence of the police on television.
Stephanie Wong, a 36-year-old who joined a huge crowd outside Hong Kong Police Headquarters after finishing work yesterday afternoon said: "People are outraged at the way police behaved and a lot of us are here in solidarity today with the students who were subjected to that."
As they were faced with ever more protesters, however, the police simply doubled down their strategy, hoping to disperse the crowds quickly by firing tear gas.
"The police force management realise they got it badly wrong. Their aim was to clear the centre of Hong Kong before the working week began on Monday at all costs but they miscalculated the resistance they would come up against," one police source said.
"By going in so forcefully with tear gas and pepper spray, they have just brought more and more people out on the streets." He added: "A lot of the officers who were there on Sunday had already been on duty for 30 hours when trouble broke out and there were no reserves to take their places yesterday. So it was a gamble that backfired and now they are swamped by protesters." Exhausted
Yesterday, police officers manning checkpoints around the protest areas were visibly exhausted, with some dozing against barriers in the afternoon sun before being prodded awake by their commanders. Hong Kong has 25,000 police officers to respond to the protests, and may shortly run out of manpower. The police, however, insisted it had only used "appropriate and necessary force" and "only the minimum necessary".
A spokesman denied that any rubber or plastic bullets had been fired, contrary to rumours.
Both Hong Kong and Beijing have labelled the protests as illegal and it is unclear how much longer the authorities will tolerate such an embarrassing situation, especially ahead of China's National Day tomorrow.
In the Global Times, a nationalistic state-run newspaper, an editorial blasted the protests as the work of "anti-China forces".
Wang Qiang, a professor at the People's Armed Police college, said "no sovereign country can tolerate this kind of incident indefinitely".
He added that it was within China's law and constitution for the People's Armed Police to be sent to Hong Kong to resolve the crisis. (© Daily Telegraph London)