The Hong Kong government on Wednesday condemned Christmas Eve violence in the Asian financial hub, calling it ‘outrageous,’ after tear gas, pepper spray, a water cannon and other weapons were used to quash night-time protests.
In the busy shopping and tourist districts of Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, marches through malls in which protesters chanted slogans, sung parodies of carols and targeted Beijing-aligned businesses soon spilled onto the streets, owing to the heavy presence of undercover officers and anti-riot units.
Around 9:45 pm (1345 GMT) on Tuesday, tear gas was fired on crowds blocking Salisbury Road outside the historic Peninsula Hotel, where riot police and tactical units were joined by a water cannon vehicle and two armoured cars.
It was the first time this month that police resumed their use of tear gas to disperse protesters, after a period of calm followed last month's pro-democracy landslide win at District Council elections.
A government spokesman said rioters damaged traffic lights, blocked roads, set fires and attacked police officers.
He said the government ‘severely condemned’ the ‘rioters' behaviour,’ which led to the disruption of traffic and transport around the city.
‘These acts seriously disrupted social order, affected the festive mood and obstructed other people from enjoying the festive season, which are outrageous,’ the government spokesman said in a statement on Wednesday.
Before midnight, police swept along the waterfront Avenue of Stars, using pepper spray to disperse attendees from the site of their planned Christmas Day countdown. Instead, the holiday was rung in on the steps to Tsim Sha Tsui's bar strip, where minutes before police lobbed tear gas grenades at people who had gathered around an arrested protester.
Further north, tear gas and a water cannon were deployed against protesters in bustling, densely populated Mong Kok, where clashes continued into the early hours of Christmas morning.
In a neighbourhood shopping centre, one protester plummeted from a height as he attempted to flee the police, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Elsewhere in the city, crowds assembled outside a police detention facility to sing carols and raise the spirits of the arrested protesters inside, according to online news source Inmedia HK.
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