HONG KONG (Reuters) - Riot police used batons and pepper spray early on Tuesday to quell fights after authorities tried to move illegal street vendors from a working-class Hong Kong district, the worst street clashes since pro-democracy protests in late 2014.
Protesters hurled bricks at police as scuffles broke out, while other demonstrators set fire to rubbish bins in the streets of Mong Kok, a gritty neighborhood just across the harbor from the heart of the Asian financial center.
Police fired two shots into the air, a police spokeswoman said, amid chaotic scenes.
"To ensure public safety and public order, police took resolute actions, including using baton and pepper spray, to stop the unlawful violent acts," police said in a statement. More than 100 protesters remained in a stand-off with officers early on Tuesday during the Chinese New Year holiday, when most of the city is shut down, with rubbish bins and flower pots in flames nearby.
The Mong Kok underground train station was closed temporarily.
A police statement said three men aged 27 to 35 were arrested for assaulting a police officer and obstructing police, while three police officers received hospital treatment. Broadcaster RTHK said later that 24 people had been arrested.
Hong Kong Indigenous, a localist group that is fielding a candidate in a Legislative Council by-election in a few weeks, was involved in the protest, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.
The clashes were the worst since authorities cleared the last of pro-democracy demonstrators from the streets in late 2014 after more than two months of occasionally violent protests that had posed one of the Beijing's greatest political challenges in decades.
(Reporting by Anne Marie Roantree, Donny Kwok and Bobby Yip; Editing by Paul Tait)