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Hong Kong police have clashed with protesters in Mong Kok district after clearing of illegal food stalls set up for Lunar New Year celebrations.

At least 23 people were arrested.

Violence erupted overnight as food and hygiene inspectors tried to remove vendors from the junction of Portland Street and Shan Tung Street.

Angry protesters threw bricks and other missiles at police.

Police used batons and pepper spray and fired two warning shots into the air. At least 44 people, including police and journalists, were injured.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive CY Leung has condemned the unrest, saying Hong Kong “can never tolerate that and the police will spare no effort to arrest the rioters”.

It is the largest unrest in Hong Kong since the massive pro-democracy street protests in 2014.

Photo AP

Photo AP

Street stalls are common in the Mong Kok area year-round, but particularly during the New Year holiday, where they are popular with locals for selling traditional New Year snacks.

Ahead of the clearance operation, hundreds of people had gathered in the area to defend the hawkers.

Police said the vendors and activists were told to leave but ignored the warnings.

Clashes then broke out in the early hours, and carried on past dawn..

Among the protesters were reportedly some “localist” – anti-Beijing – groups.

One of them was arrested, CY Leung said.

Acting District Commander Yau Siu-kei confirmed reports that an officer had fired two warning shots into the air. He said the officer had to act protect colleagues, the South China Morning Post said.

The unrest was widely referenced on social media, where it was dubbed #fishballrevolution after one of the food delicacies sold by the hawkers.

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists have clashed with police near the government offices, in some of the worst unrest in two months of protests.

Protesters fought police armed with pepper spray, batons and water hoses on roads around the camp in Admiralty.

Police say 40 people have been arrested and a number of officers were injured.

The protesters want the people of Hong Kong to be allowed to choose their leaders in the 2017 elections without interference from Beijing.

The Chinese government has said it will allow universal suffrage, but will screen candidates for the chief executive post in advance.

Last week police and court bailiffs removed one of the major protest camps in the Mong Kok commercial district.

The protesters had public support at the beginning, but that is now ebbing as many Hong Kong residents believe the protests are causing too much disruption.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

The unrest flared late on November 30, after student protest leaders called on supporters to converge on the offices of Chief Executive CY Leung on Lung Wo Road.

The road is a short distance away from Connaught Road in Admiralty, the major road protesters have been occupying for two months.

Protesters, many wearing hard hats and carrying umbrellas – the symbol of their movement – moved into the area, throwing bottles, helmets and umbrellas towards police.

Police ordered them to retreat, then charged protesters, eventually forcing them out of the area. Police sprayed water to disperse protesters, in addition to batons and pepper spray.

On December 1, government offices were shut and staff were told to stay home. But the roads outside the government site were clear of protesters and open for traffic.

By afternoon government employees were able to go back to work.

The atmosphere remains tense at Connaught Road where hundreds of protesters are still occupying the area amid a police presence.

Hong Kong’s security secretary, Lai Tung-kwow, has blamed students for escalating violent behavior, and defended the use of force by police.

“The police have to take resolute actions, they have no choice … it is their duty to restore law and order,” Lai Tung-kwow told reporters at a press conference on December 1.

Last week more than 100 people – including some key protest leaders – were arrested as the Mong Kok camp, across the harbor from Admiralty, was dismantled.

The latest clashes come after China said it would not allow a UK parliamentary committee to enter Hong Kong as part of an inquiry into British relations with its former colony.

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Hong Kong protesters have clashed with police in a battle for territory in the district of Mong Kok.

Some reports suggested police charged after the demonstrators had breached their barriers, sparking scuffles that caused minor injuries on both sides.

Protesters on social media accused the police of an unprovoked attack.

Leaders on both sides have called for calm, and confirmed that talks between protest leaders and the government delegates will take place on October 21.

The protesters, many of them youths and students, are angry at China’s rulers for limiting their choice of leader in the next election in 2017.

They accuse Hong Kong’s current leader, CY Leung, of failing to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party.

Hong Kong protesters have clashed with police in a battle for territory in the district of Mong Kok

Hong Kong protesters have clashed with police in a battle for territory in the district of Mong Kok (photo Reuters)

Protests erupted last month and have been going on intermittently around government buildings and the business district on Hong Kong island, and in Mong Kok, a residential and shopping area in Kowloon.

On October 17, police had all but cleared the Mong Kok site and protesters’ numbers had substantially dwindled elsewhere.

Clashes resumed later as protesters launched a sustained effort to reoccupy a busy road junction in Mong Kok.

About 9,000 protesters pushed police back, with 26 people arrested.

At about midnight on October 18, police charged protesters, beating them with batons and deploying pepper spray.

A stand-off resumed shortly afterwards with neither side having gained any ground.

Talks between the two sides were announced earlier.

Carrie Lam, CY Leung’s deputy, said both sides would send five representatives to the negotiations, which will be broadcast live on television.

The talks will last about two hours, and be focused on constitutional reform, Carrie Lam said.

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