Police in Hong Kong fired tear gas and pepper spray in a busy shopping and tourism district of Kowloon on Christmas Eve, declaring the bustling crowds of shoppers and visitors illegal, live video footage showed.
Tear gas was fired outside the iconic Peninsula Hong Kong Hotel in Kowloon’s Tsimshatsui district, after a flag warning that people gathered nearby were taking part in “an illegal assembly.”
“That’s what Xmas gifts #HongKongPolice give Hong Kong people on Christmas Eve: tear gas, water cannon vehicles, rubber bullets,” wrote Twitter user @PPPPPPPyyyyyy.
Police also charged through crowds of last-minute holiday shoppers and tourists in the glitzy Harbour City mall on the Tsimshatsui waterfront, where cruise ships dock, and through a shopping mall in the New Territories town of Yuen Long, prompting one man to fall one storey as he was being chased, local media reported.
The city’s Mass Transit Railway shut down nearby Tsimshatsui subway station, as well as Mong Kok, which has been the scene of frequent clashes between police and protesters since protests escalated in early June, broadening into widespread calls for fully democratic elections.
Protesters had set fire to an entrance at the Mong Kok subway station, smashed up a China-linked business and vandalized the HSBC building on Mong Kok’s Nathan Road, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
“Tear gas buffet fired by #HKPolice to disperse group of civilians who were SINGING CHRISTMAS CAROLS on Nathan Road near Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station,” the @Fight4HongKong Twitter account reported just past 11.00 p.m.
“Water cannon was deployed to disperse Christmas carols,” it said.
‘White Christmas’ teargas cloud
Other tweets made fun of police for bringing Hong Kong a “white Christmas” shrouded in clouds of tear gas, while some reported that a man who cooked for besieged protesters inside the Polytechnic University last month had been arrested. RFA was unable to confirm the report independently.
Meanwhile, riot police were out in force not far from government headquarters in Hong Kong Island’s Admiralty district, where they stopped and searched dozens of young people, social media accounts said.
Protesters continue to call on the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam to meet all five demands of the protest movement, which include full democracy and an independent inquiry into police violence against protesters.
While Lam has formally withdrawn widely hated plans to change Hong Kong’s extradition laws, she and her officials have repeatedly ruled out meeting the other four demands.
Protesters have continued to take to the streets in their hundreds of thousands, after a landslide victory of pro-democracy parties in last month’s District Council elections.
Hong Kong current affairs commentator Sang Pu said police had stepped up their hardline approach to the protests in recent months, in the hope of decimating the most committed frontline protesters who face them in pitched street battles at the barricades.
“The idea [of targeting university campuses] was to completely eradicate all of the frontline protesters,” Sang said. “The methods they have employed have included killing and deadly force, arrests, rounding up all of their personal networks, then arresting them.”
The bodies of a number of young people have been found in the sea in recent months, amid speculation that a growing number of missing persons have been “disappeared,” possibly to mainland China, since protests began.