Protesters Tuesday night stormed the construction site surrounding the old Central Star Ferry Pier after constructors began the demotion of the clock tower by removing its antique bell.
About 20 protesters, among them members of the See Network and led by legislator Leung Kwok-hung, broke through a cordon of policemen and constructors shortly after 6pm. They occupied part of the construction site, shouting slogans from the roof of an excavator and demanded to meet Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Michael Suen Ming-yeung.
One journalist was slightly injured when he was pushed to the ground during the fracas and taken to hospital.
The protesters were supported at the scene by Civic Party legislators Kwok Ka-ki, Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung and Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong legislator Choy So-yuk.
The police, paramedics and firemen arrived to cordon off the protesters and stand by in case of further injuries.
At midnight, they were still at the site and refused to leave until Suen met them to assure them that the clock will stay. At press time, no arrest was made.
The move followed the removal of the bell of Hong Kong's last antique mechanical clock in the afternoon. Its signature Westminster chimes could be heard ringing at the heart of Central every quarter-hour for half a century.
The demolition drew outrage from legislators and conservationists, who said it goes against the wishes of most residents.
The issue has united legislators from all sides of the political spectrum.
The Civic Party's Mandy Tam Heung-man accused the government of being hellbent on its destruction.
"The people of Hong Kong have an attachment to the clock tower. It is a true Hong Kong landmark.
"The clock tower occupies a tiny space. There is absolutely no need to take it down. It hardly blocks the bypass. Why can't we save the clock tower in the same way as we have saved the Kowloon Fire Station or the lighthouse in Tseung Kwan O?"
Choy, who last week asked for the minutes of the Antiques Advisory Board meeting in which the fate of the clock tower was decided, said the government was rushing the demolition before anyone had time to object.
"They told me before it wasn't worth preserving because it is too young. Now they say the Antiques Advisory Board decided it was not worth preserving. I asked for the minutes of the meeting, but they told me it would take at least a week to get them to me.
"Now I think they were just delaying until after the demolition when it is too late.
"One of my Italian friends, who has traveled all over the world, has described Star Ferry as the most beautiful ride in the world. Now it is gone. Our cultural identity is eroding away every day and there is nothing we can do about it. That's the tragedy of Hong Kong."
The third-generation Star Ferry Pier, built in 1957, is being demolished to give way to the six-lane Central-Wan Chai Bypass and a low-rise "groundscraper" shopping mall.
It will be replaced with a mock- Edwardian pier that will feature a clock tower with digital chimes.