Hong Kong police fire tear gas to disperse protesters on Christmas Eve after mall clashes

Hong Kong police fire tear gas to disperse protesters on Christmas Eve after mall clashes

Hong Kong protests Dec 24 Christmas Eve (1)
Police react as anti-government protesters throw an umbrella at them after a protester was detained in a shopping mall in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong on Dec 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Philip FONG)

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

Protesters inside shopping malls had thrown 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.


Hundreds of black-clad protesters had gathered in Harbour City mall on Tuesday evening, chanting slogans.

Tensions soon rose when a group of plainclothes police were discovered and surrounded within the sprawling shopping centre, an AFP reporter on the scene said.

The plainclothes officers made multiple arrests as the crowds threw objects and heckled them. Riot police quickly arrived at the scene, one aiming a shotgun at protesters as shops shuttered.

There were small rallies in multiple malls across the financial hub, clashing regularly with police.

Hong Kong protests Dec 24 Christmas Eve
Plainclothes police react as anti-government protesters throw an umbrella at them after a protester (centre, on ground) was detained in a shopping mall in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong on Dec 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)

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.

Police said a large group of rioters had built barricades, damaged traffic lights and dug up bricks on the area's major thoroughfares.

There was a heavy police presence into the night with hundreds of officers standing guard on the roads as Christmas shoppers and tourists looked on.

Shoppers continue to patronise retail stores as a riot police stand by
Shoppers continue to patronise retail stores as a riot police stand by in a mall on Christmas Eve in Hong Kong on Dec 24, 2019. (Photo: AP/Kin Cheung)

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

The government later on Tuesday announced it was closing Kowloon Park in the Yau Tsim Mong district in response to the clashes, warning of further closures in other districts.

READ: Hong Kong 'silent night' protests planned for Christmas Eve

READ: Protesters rally near Hong Kong harbour, more demos planned over Christmas

An anti-government demonstrator walks past tear gas on Christmas Eve in Hong Kong
An anti-government demonstrator walks past tear gas on Christmas Eve in Hong Kong, China, Dec 24, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Tyrione Siu)

The protests, now in their seventh month, have lost some of the scale and intensity of earlier violent confrontations. A peaceful rally earlier this month still drew 800,000 people, according to organisers, showing strong support for the movement.

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."

Protesters walk past a protest slogan during a rally on Christmas Eve in Hong Kong
Protesters walk past a protest slogan during a rally on Christmas Eve in Hong Kong on Dec 24, 2019. (Photo: AP/Kin Cheung)

RUNNING CLASHES

At one mall in the teeming Mong Kok district, police used pepper spray to disperse some protesters, according to Cable television.

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 before a UN human rights council in Geneva.

Demonstrators have previously defaced Starbucks around the city, daubing anti-China graffiti on its windows.

A mob also started a fire in a MTR station in Mong Kok, police said in a Facebook post. 

Footage on social media showed a man in a mall in Yuen Long barging into police officers and leaping one floor below in a bid to avoid arrest.

Police said officers were responding to reports that protesters were vandalising shops in the mall. 

The man who jumped over the glass barriers was taken to hospital in a conscious state and arrested for assault.

READ: Hong Kong gears up for Christmas holiday protests

READ: 'We can celebrate later': Hong Kongers pen Christmas cards to protesters

Hong Kong protests Dec 24 Christmas Eve (2)
A person dressed as the Kumamon bear mascot walks amid protesters in a shopping mall in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong on Dec 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)

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.

Police have arrested more than 6,000 people since the protests escalated in June, including a large number during a protracted, violent siege at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in mid-November.

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".

Lam has so far refused to grant protesters' demands which include an independent inquiry into police behaviour and the implementation of full universal suffrage. 

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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Source: Agencies/CNA/nh/ec

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