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A screen grab taken from Now TV on 15 October shows police officers assaulting a pro-democracy protester (on the ground) during clashes in Hong Kong.Authorities in Hong Kong launched an investigation on Wednesday into a television news video that appeared to show police officers leading a pro-democracy activist around a dark corner, forcing the handcuffed man to the ground and repeatedly kicking him as he curled into a ball.

Outrage over the purported beating — following clashes between security forces and demonstrators — swiftly became a new rallying point for protest groups trying to remain on the streets despite increasing crackdowns and a decline in numbers.

Protests broke out late last month over plans by Beijing to vet candidates for elections. The mass demonstrations, which have clogged highways and encircled government buildings, soon grew into a wider challenge over China's ability to dictate political affairs and freedoms in the former British colony.

The TVB channel said the incident was filmed in the early hours Wednesday as police cleared a road tunnel near the main protest site, arresting 45 protesters and using pepper spray on many others who refused to get out of the way.

At least 10 protesters and five police officers were reported injured in the clashes, the worst violence since police used tear gas on protesters more than two weeks ago.

But it was the video that dominated attention, provoking condemnation from protest leaders, pro-democracy legislators and human rights groups. It appeared to show seven police officers leading a protester away, before several of them kicked him on the ground for around four minutes.

Several thousand people converged on the main protest site on Wednesday evening to hear their leaders demand the arrest of the police officers and urge supporters to continue the struggle.

The man in the video was identified as Ken Tsang Kin-chui, a social worker and member of the pro-democracy Civic Party. A photograph of Tsang was later released by activists, showing bruising around his face, neck and back.

Dennis Kwok, one of Tsang's lawyers and a legislator from theCivic Party, said Tsang also bore several marks on his backs consistent with beating by a police baton. Kwok said his client had complained of being hit on the head at the police station.

"To be fair, most of the police have behaved with restraint since the Occupy Central movement began, but yesterday really shattered the image of the police," he said. "There is no denying that police have been handling a very difficult situation, but what happened to Mr. Tsang has no justification."

With tempers frayed on the streets, meanwhile, efforts resumed to start talks between the government and student leaders.

The secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, said the government has used a "middleman" to contact the Federation of Students, one of the groups organising the protests, in a bid to open direct dialogue. The government called off planned talks last week, saying the students' demands were not realistic and insisting they end their occupation of the streets before negotiating.

The London-based rights group Amnesty International described the videotape as "a vicious attack against a detained man who posed no threat to the police," and said the officers involved should face justice.

The British Broadcasting Corp. said its website was blocked in China, hours after the video began circulating online. "This appears to be deliberate censorship," said the BBC's director of global news, Peter Horrocks.

The Hong Kong Federation of Students called for the resignations of Police Commissioner Tsang Wai-hung and the officer in charge of Wednesday morning's operation. Later, student leader Lester Shum told thousands of supporters that the police had also used pepper spray "like crazy" against protesters.

"What happened last night was so absurd I still can't accept it," he said.

In a statement, the Hong Kong police said they were concerned by the video and would investigate in a "just and impartial manner." Hong Kong's secretary for security, Lai Tung-kwok, told a news conference the officers shown in the video would be temporarily removed from their positions.

After the video emerged, another channel, Now TV, broadcast a brief clip showing a man they identified as Tsang, wearing an identical T-shirt but with his face hidden behind a surgical mask and goggles, stationed on a high vantage point, squirting water from a bottle onto policemen below.

The channel said the clip was filmed shortly before Tsang was taken away and beaten.

Police said the violence began when protesters charged their "cordon line" in the Lung Wo Road tunnel on the outskirts of the main protest site on Tuesday evening, some with their hands in the air and others carrying umbrellas — a symbol of demonstrations.

After chasing away the police from the area, the protesters blocked a tunnel near the main city government building, using concrete slabs and manhole covers. A few hours later, the police struck back, clearing the road and arresting or using pepper spray on anyone who refused to move out of the way quickly enough.

The lawyer and legislator Kwok said he had recorded nine other cases of violence against arrested protesters, aside from his client Tsang.

Faced with the turmoil, Hong Kong's unpopular and embattled chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, said he was cancelling Thursday's question-and-answer session in the Legislative Council, the territory's mini-parliament. The LegCo building, as it is known, stands right on the edge of the protest zone. Leung told reporters he did not want to "inflame a large protest."

In Beijing, the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, warned in a front-page commentary that democracy was "no excuse for turmoil" and that protesters' attempts to force Leung to resign were "doomed to fail."

"Stability is bliss, and turmoil brings havoc," it said.

Simon Denyer – The Washington Post        
Washington Post correspondent Kris Cheng Lok-chit contributed to this report.
Image: Now Tv / AFP / Lehtikuva