Onlookers watch as an injured pro-democracy protester is helped by a police after being beaten by a group of anti-Occupy Central protesters at Hong Kong's Mongkok shopping district on Friday. Photo: Reuters

There was no visible change in the balance of street power in Hong Kong on Saturday, but tensions seemed to rise following a declaration by authorities that the process of restoring normality in the territory will commence on Monday.

Schools to reopen

In an evening televised address, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced that government operations in Hong Kong, which is designated as China’s Special Administrative Region (SAR), would commence on Monday. He said schools, shuttered since September 28, when the protests commenced, would also be opened on the same day.

“At the moment, the most urgent thing is that all entrances and exits of the SAR government’s headquarters must be kept clear on Monday, so all 3,000 government staff can work normally and serve citizens,” said Mr. Leung. “And roads in Central and Western and Wan Chai districts will no longer be blocked so all schools can resume classes on Monday.”

The decision of the government to get proactive, follows two developments — the inability to start talks with the protesters, and the rise in street power of groups opposing Occupy Central, the name given to the student-led agitation that has descended on three sensitive locations of the city. By Saturday, there was a strong possibility that the locality of Mong Kok, a congested residential and working class area, could become the platform for the launch of counter-protests.

Arrests after clashes

There were violent clashes in the area a day earlier between groups for and against the agitation resulting in 19 arrests and injuries to at least 20 people, including six police officers. After the overnight violence, I Care Action, an anti-Occupy Central group, held a rally in Mong Kok, where one of its leaders exhorted the police to forcibly evict the protesters.

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“Occupying the roads is nothing about democracy. It’s to destroy Hong Kong people’s daily life,” he said. “We want our harmonious society back. We want to go to work, we want to go to school.”

The government’s unilateral decision to resurrect normality follows expression of full support in Beijing for the actions, including the use of tear gas last Sunday, by authorities in Hong Kong.

A second successive commentary on Saturday in the People’s Daily, the government’s official newspaper, observed that tear gas was used when protesters assaulted police defences. “Hong Kong police are very professional, and the actions they took were necessary, appropriate and moderate. There are no reasons to criticise their law enforcement acts”.

Despite the growing assertion by the government, the protesters were present in substantial numbers but significantly below their peak on Tuesday, at Causeway Bay — a top shopping area — as well as around the Admiralty — a major administrative hub that includes the CE’s office.

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