HONG KONG: Two police officers were beaten bloody by protesters in Hong Kong on Sunday (Jan 19) as violence erupted at a rally calling for greater democratic freedoms in the heart of the city.
Trouble flared when police ordered the authorised gathering to disperse from the city's commercial district, with protesters gathering behind shields of umbrellas.
A group of plainclothes officers negotiating with the rally organisers was set upon by masked protesters, who beat them with umbrellas and sticks, an AFP reporter on the scene said.
Two officers were seen with bloody head wounds as colleagues shielded them from further attacks.
"Such appalling acts are not to be condoned," the force said in a statement on Facebook.
Riot police swept into the area and fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Brief cat-and-mouse clashes ensued with police making multiple arrests, including one protester who had blood streaming from the back of his head.
Hong Kong's protests have raged for seven months after being sparked by a now-abandoned proposal to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland, where the opaque legal system answers to the Communist Party.
It soon morphed into a wider movement calling for greater freedoms in what is the most concerted challenge to Beijing's rule since the former colony's 1997 handover.
The frequency and ferocity of the protests have died down over the last month, but signs of the political unrest are everywhere, from graffiti daubed on walls to huge fences surrounding government buildings.
The city's police force is now loathed by large swathes of the city, heckled by crowds both at protest sites and in their local neighbourhoods.
Critics accuse police of using excessive force, with no police officer disciplined or punished in the last seven months of protests.
Police say they have used force commensurate with the levels of violence they face from hardcore protesters who routinely throw bricks and petrol bombs.
The force has blamed viral social media videos of officers making hard arrests and media coverage for their plummeting reputation among the city's inhabitants.
Among key protester demands are an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for the thousands arrested and fully free elections.
Beijing and local leader Carrie Lam have refused further concessions.