Conservation activists again broke through a police cordon Thursday night, in a renewed attempt to prevent workers from tearing down the famous clock tower at the old Star Ferry pier.
The development came as about a dozen protesters split from a candlelight vigil outside the site to confront a handful of police officers who had formed lines to stop intrusions.
At least four protesters succeeded in breaking through the line and climbed on to the scaffold-clad structure.
Tension remained high at the scene as of midnight.
Earlier in the evening, about 40 demonstrators and citizens turned up with lit candles to protest the demise of the clock tower, known for its Westminster chimes that had resonated in Hong Kong for the past half century.
"I came here because there's a historical significance with the tower and its chimes. The way officials have handled it has been wrong," said a Hong Kong Jockey Club employee.
"I learned of the candlelight vigil on the Internet. That's why I am here after work," he said.
Among the crowd was designer Puk Yuk-yin who said she admired the tower and did not agree with the way in which the protesters were dispersed.
Wednesday, police arrested a woman protester as they rounded up demonstrators who had been holding demolition workers at bay.
Loy Ho has since been released on HK$500 police bail and ordered to report to police December 28, a police spokesman said.
Police commissioner Dick Lee Ming-kwai said officers had exercised the greatest restraint possible, clarifying they had stepped in after being convinced law and order was threatened.
Meanwhile, government officials refused to halt demolition work.
At a special meeting of Legco's planning, lands and works panel, Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Michael Suen Ming-yeung categorically stated the government had to abide by its contract.
"It is a decision that has been reached for a good while. To do anything otherwise would only be unrealistic," Suen replied, in reference to Civic Party legislator Mandy Tam Heung-man's outburst that it would not be too late if the work was stopped now.
Tam had proposed the government change the contract terms, a point Suen was quick to seize upon.
"We can't change the terms too readily," Suen said.
"I believe Tam does not have the experience as in a marriage which is also a kind of contract. We cannot change it easily. Otherwise, we will end up divorced." Tam is single.
Although Suen eventually withdrew the remark after protests by other legislators, he said changing contract terms would be unacceptable.
Yet, Suen said it was likely the chimes with which Hong Kong people are familiar would resonate once more after the clocktower is relocated along the waterfront.
Although the manufacturer does not produce mechanical parts for the bell anymore, it may agree to make the parts specially for Hong Kong, he said.
Federation of Trade Unions legislator Wong Kwok-hing said it would be important for Hong Kong to hear the clock again because it was the centerpiece of the collective memory that many locals have.
Engineering-sector legislator Raymond Ho Chung-tai said the dilemma was not unique to Hong Kong, pointing out similar conflicts between development and cultural conservation also happened in other cities.