Tear gas and clashes as Hong Kong protests continue through Christmas

Anti-government activists have again clashed with police in Hong Kong as the ongoing protests continued on Christmas Day.

Anti-government protesters have marched through Christmas-decorated shopping centres in Hong Kong as police fired tear gas to disperse crowds gathering on nearby streets.

The protests have turned more confrontational over the festive season, though earlier in December they were largely peaceful after pro-democracy candidates overwhelmingly won district council elections.

Despite the embarrassing results, Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leaders have made no new concessions.

Police Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung, center, speaks to a police officer on duty during Christmas Eve in Hong Kong.
Source: AP

"Confrontation is expected, it doesn't matter if it's Christmas," said Chan, a 28-year-old restaurant worker who was part of a crowd that exchanged insults with police outside a shopping centre in the Mong Kok district.

"I'm disappointed the government still didn't respond to any of our ... demands. We continue to come out even if we don't have much hope," he said.

Riot police patrolled several neighbourhoods on Wednesday while tourists and shoppers, many wearing Santa hats or reindeer antlers, strolled past.

There were no major clashes, but with impromptu crowds forming to shout expletives at the unpopular officers, who have been accused of using excessive force, police briefly fired tear gas in Mong Kok, a popular protest area.

Police described their reaction to the unrest as restrained.

Riot police walk to detain protesters during a demonstration in Hong Kong.
Source: AP

Hundreds of protesters, dressed in black and wearing face masks, descended on shopping malls around the Chinese-ruled city, shouting popular slogans such as "Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times!"

Police arrested several people in a shopping mall in the Sha Tin district after pepper-spraying them. The mall closed early.

Tear gas used on Christmas Eve

Earlier, Hong Kong riot police  fired rounds of tear gas at thousands of protesters, many wearing masks and reindeer horns, after scuffles in shopping malls and in a prime tourist district as anti-government rallies escalated into chaos on Christmas Eve.

Protesters inside the malls threw umbrellas and other objects at police who responded by beating some demonstrators with batons, with one pointing his gun at the crowd, but not firing.

Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters who had occupied the main roads and blocked traffic outside the malls and nearby luxury hotels, including the Peninsula, in the Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district of Kowloon.

A riot police gestures, to a crowd to clear the area during a rally on Christmas Eve in Hong Kong.
Source: AP

A man was shown on public broadcaster RTHK as falling from the second floor to the first floor of a mall in the rural Yuen Long district as he tried to evade police. He was conscious as he was taken away by paramedics.

There was a heavy police presence into the night with hundreds of officers standing guard on the roads as thousands of Christmas shoppers and tourists, some wearing Santa hats, looked on. A water canon and several armoured police Jeeps were parked nearby.

More than six months of protests have beset the city with frequent confrontations between protesters and police.
Source: AP

Dozens of protesters started digging up bricks from the roads and set up barricades, as police said in a statement they would deploy "minimum force to effect dispersal" and arrest "rioters".

Many families with children had congregated in the same area to view the Christmas lights along the promenade, the spectacular backdrop of Hong Kong island on the opposite side of the harbour.

Scores of black clad, mask-wearing protesters chanted slogans including "Revive Hong Kong, revolution of our time" and "Hong Kong independence" as they roamed the malls.

"Lots of people are shopping so it's a good opportunity to spread the message and tell people what we are fighting for," said Ken, an 18-year-old student.

"We fight for freedom, we fight for our future."

A bank branch of global banking group HSBC was vandalised in Mong Kok, according to television footage. The bank on Friday became embroiled in a saga involving an official crackdown on a fund-raising platform supporting protesters in need.

HSBC denied any link between a police clampdown on the platform, called Spark Alliance, and the earlier closure of an HSBC bank account tied to the group.

Protesters had nevertheless called for a boycott of the bank at its headquarters in the heart of Hong Kong's financial district.

Around 100 protesters trashed a Starbucks inside another mall called Mira Place, breaking the glass counters displaying pastries and spraying graffiti on the walls.

The coffee shop chain has been a common target of protesters after the daughter of the founder of Maxim's Caterers, which owns the local franchise, condemned the protesters at a UN human rights council in Geneva.

Metro operator MTR Corp said it shut two stations, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui, early on Tuesday night due to protests in the area. Train services were meant to run overnight on Christmas Eve.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which has organised some of the biggest marches involving more than a million people, has applied to stage another march on New Year's Day.

Riot police stand guard as pro-democracy protesters march in Harbour City shopping mall in Hong Kong, during last week's protests.
Source: AP

Many Hong Kong residents are angry at what they see as Beijing's meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering and says it is committed to the "one country, two systems" formula put in place at that time and has blamed foreign forces for fomenting unrest.

In a video posted on her Facebook page, Chief Executive Carrie Lam wished Hong Kong citizens "a peaceful and safe Merry Christmas".

"Such illegal acts have not only dampened the festive mood but also adversely affected local businesses," she wrote.

The Hospital Authority said 25 people were injured overnight, including one man who fell from the second to the first floor of a shopping mall as he tried to escape police.

With wires...

Published 25 December 2019 at 4:00pm, updated 26 December 2019 at 1:32pm
By SBS News