HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong anti-government protesters marched through Christmas-decorated shopping centers on Wednesday, chanting pro-democracy slogans and forcing one mall to close early, 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 had been 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.
“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 which exchanged insults with police outside a shopping center 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,” said Chan, who only gave his surname.
Riot police patrolled several neighborhoods 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 describe their reaction to the unrest as restrained.
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.
Baton-wielding police fired tear gas on Tuesday at thousands of protesters who barricaded roads and trashed a Starbucks cafe and an HSBC branch.
The city’s leader Carrie Lam said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that many Hong Kongers and tourists were disappointed that their “Christmas Eve celebrations have been ruined”.
“Such illegal acts have not only dampened the festive mood but also adversely affected local businesses.”