Beijing: Hong Kong police fired "warning shots" in a bid to contain hundreds of surging rioters as Lunar New Year celebrations descended into a night of chaos on the streets of one of the city's busiest districts.
Trouble first flared late on Monday after authorities attempted to clear illegal hawkers and street vendors in gritty Mong Kok during festivities marking the start of the Lunar New Year.
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Hong Kong police clash with protesters
Riot police fire 'warning shots' as violence erupts in Hong Kongâs Mong Kok district after authorities attempt to clear illegal hawkers and street vendors on Monday.
The swift escalation into raw violence reflects the public anger and distrust of police that has simmered following pro-democracy protests in 2014. Mong Kok was the scene of the most violent clashes during the so-called Occupy protest, and remained under virtual lockdown on Tuesday morning. At least 24 people were arrested.
Protesters hurled bricks and other projectiles at police as fires burned in the streets, with police retaliating with batons and pepper spray in unruly scenes. Local television station TVB showed the moment police drew guns on protesters and fired two warning shots into the air about 2am.
【開槍一刻】0205 旺角警員開槍示警前後現場片段，兩聲槍響前後相隔約5秒（片段01:36、01:41可聽到槍響）報道不斷更新： http://bit.ly/1KB1NG4片源：Kris ChengPosted by Stand News 立場新聞 on Monday, February 8, 2016
Mong Kok deputy district commander Yau Siu-kei said 44 police officers were injured, and said the two "warning shots" were necessary "because many rioters were attacking police with hard objects and seriously threatened their lives".
"Radical elements have come with self-made weapons and shields and clashed with police," Mr Yau told the South China Morning Post. "The situation ran out of control and became a riot."
At a hastily convened news conference, Hong Kong's top official Leung Chun-ying said the government "strongly condems such violent acts".
"They committed acts of arson, threw bricks and other objects at police officers, including those who had already been injured and were lying on the ground," he said. "I believe the public can see for themselves from TV news reports the seriousness of the situation."
Hong Kong police released a statement condemning the violence and defended its "resolute actions" in handling the chaotic scenes.
The night's violence was the worst since tens of thousands of people paralysed key thoroughfares in Hong Kong in a mass civil disobedience movement aimed at protesting against the government and the creeping influence of Beijing.
While the 79-day long street occupation was largely peaceful and included people from all walks of life, an early clash with police saw the movement dubbed the Umbrella Revolution after protesters used umbrellas to shield themselves from police pepper spray and tear gas.
Since the occupation ended, so-called "localists" have seized on increasingly divided sentiment to call for a more confrontational stance against the Hong Kong government and for Beijing's influence on the territory to be kept in check. They have gained support in recent months following the disappearance of five Hong Kong political booksellers who have emerged in mainland detention.
One so-called "localist" group put out a call on Facebook early on Tuesday to go to Mong Kok and bring along masks and protective gear.
Here's a takeaway: I was a *lot* more terrified of the police than the ppl throwing rocks. No tactics, just raw violence #HongKongRiot— Trey Menefee (@trey_menefee) February 8, 2016
Tuesday's stand-off was dubbed the "fishball revolution" on social media, in a nod to the popular street-food snack.