December 25, 2019 / 10:15 AM / a month ago

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists keep up protests on Christmas Day

HONG KONG, Dec 25 (Reuters) - Hong Kong anti-government protesters marched through several shopping malls chanting pro-democracy slogans on Wednesday, a day after violent clashes with the police left a prime tourist district decorated for Christmas shrouded in tear gas.

The protests, which escalated in June, have been largely peaceful for much of December after pro-democracy candidates overwhelmingly won district council elections the month before.

But Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leaders have made no concessions to the protesters, despite acknowledging their defeat in the polls, and the rallies have turned more confrontational over the festive period.

Riot police patrolled several past protest hotspots while tourists and shoppers, many wearing Santa hats or reindeer antlers, strolled past.

Television footage showed police pepper-spraying a man they then arrested outside a shopping centre in the densely-populated district of Mong Kok.

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

Most shops remained open.

On Tuesday, baton-wielding police had fired tear gas at thousands of protesters who barricaded roads, spray-painted slogans on buildings and trashed a Starbucks cafe and an HSBC branch. A water cannon truck, flanked by armoured jeeps also roamed the streets, but was not heavily used.

INJURIES

The Hospital Authority said 25 people had been injured overnight, including one man who fell from the second to first floor of a shopping mall as he tried to escape the police, and another who fell from the rooftop of a restaurant. It was unclear if the latter was related to the protests.

HSBC has become embroiled in a controversy involving a police crackdown earlier this month on a fund-raising platform supporting protesters. HSBC denied any link between the crackdown and its earlier closure of a bank account tied to the group, but remains the target of protester rage.

Starbucks has also become a target of the demonstrators’ anger after the daughter of the founder of Maxim’s Caterers, which owns the local franchise, publicly condemned the protesters.

The protests started more than six months ago against a now-withdrawn bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China where courts are controlled by the Communist Party.

They have since evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement, with demonstrators angry at what they perceive as increased meddling by Beijing 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. (Writing by Marius Zaharia Editing by Gareth Jones)

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