HONG KONG (AP) — Several dozen people appeared in a Hong Kong court Thursday to face rioting charges following a violent clash earlier this week between protesters and police sparked by a clampdown on holiday street food vendors.
Hong Kong police and local media reports said 37 people were attending court in Kowloon, each facing one count of taking part in a riot, a rarely used charge that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Defendants were given bail and their cases adjourned until April, the reports said. A 15-year-old appeared separately at a juvenile court to face the same charge, local channel Cable TV reported.
Police arrested a total of 64 people after the street battle, which erupted late Monday in densely populated Mong Kok and lasted until dawn Tuesday.
Activists were angered by authorities' attempts to crack down on food hawkers selling fishballs and other local delicacies for the Lunar New Year holiday. The unlicensed vendors are a local holiday tradition but attempts this year by authorities to remove them stoked concerns that Hong Kong's local culture is disappearing as Beijing tightens its hold on the semiautonomous Chinese city.
In a statement reported late Thursday by the official Xinhua News Agency, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the riot was plotted largely by a local radical separatist organization. The report did not elaborate.
Protesters pelted police with bricks and glass bottles and set fires on the street. Officers responded with batons and pepper spray. One officer fired two warning shots into the air, a highly unusual act in Hong Kong, which otherwise has a reputation for being extremely safe. Nearly 90 officers and four reporters were injured.
It was the worst violence in Hong Kong since late 2014, when the city was rocked by pro-democracy protests that left a widening trust gap between the public and the city's Beijing-backed leader.
Police said 16 other people, including one as young as 14, were released on bail as they continue to investigate. They said another 10 are being held for "for further enquiries."