[HONG KONG] Hong Kong police clashed with pro-democracy demonstrators on Wednesday after a small group tried to break into the city's legislature, as splits emerged within the movement before the expected clearance of protest camps.
The clashes were sparked when around a dozen masked protesters smashed their way through a side entrance of the Legislative Council (LegCo) building in the early hours, using metal barricades as battering rams.
Around 100 police then moved to disperse the front lines of hundreds of protesters in helmets and waving umbrellas, a symbol of their movement. Officers used pepper spray and batons in an angry confrontation.
Police said three officers were injured during the scuffles and six arrests made.
The government of the semi-autonomous Chinese city said "severe damage" was caused, and joined police in condemning the violence. The incident was widely reported on the Chinese mainland.
At least one demonstrator managed to get into the building, according to the Apple Daily newspaper.
A regular session of the chamber was cancelled on Wednesday and visitor tours were suspended.
Demonstrators have been camped on three major Hong Kong thoroughfares for more than seven weeks, demanding free elections for the city's next leader. But public support has ebbed as the weeks pass with little progress.
Beijing insists that candidates for the 2017 vote for the city's top post must be vetted by a loyalist committee - an arrangement the protesters say will ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.
Authorities moved Tuesday to take down some barricades at the main protest camp, near the legislative building in the downtown Admiralty district, after a court granted an order to remove obstructions.
The break-in was the clearest sign yet that a small faction of protesters want to ramp up rather than scale down action after the court-backed bailiffs' action at Admiralty.
The execution of a second injunction ordering the clearance of a protest site in the Mongkok district on Hong Kong's Kowloon peninsula is expected within days. Although that area is smaller, it has been the focal point of violence between police, protesters and opponents of the demonstrators in the last few weeks.
"I think we should all move to occupy inside government headquarters and LegCo," a 23-year-old protester who gave his surname as Wong told AFP in Mongkok.
"In Taiwan, activists occupied the parliament on the first day. Now we have been sleeping out here for 50 odd days before we actually do it," he added, referring to a sit-in by Taiwanese students opposed to a trade pact with China.
"Nothing has been achieved at Admiralty," said 18-year-old Saki Tin, who said she supported the group who attempted the break-in. "Sitting here is not a solution".
The protests have largely been peaceful but have been punctuated by clashes, and police used tear gas on large crowds on the first day, September 28.
Student protest leaders said after the latest confrontation that their movement was committed to non-violence, while a pro-democrat legislator said he believed the group was not representative of the majority.
"It's not something we like to see... We call on occupiers to stick firm to peaceful and non-violent principles and be a responsible participant of the umbrella movement," said 21-year-old Lester Shum of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.
Occupy Central, a separate pro-democracy group, said it "strongly condemns" the use of violence.
Lawmaker Fernando Cheung, who witnessed the clashes, told AFP: "I am truly angry about what happened last night... I believe those people who are involved smashing the (entrance) were not the mainstay of the movement. I don't know them myself."