HONG KONG/NEW YORK – Hong Kong is gearing up for demonstrations over Christmas week with protesters planning events in districts across the city, including in prime shopping malls, the latest in more than six months of unrest.
This week’s protests follow a weekend of rallies, including one Sunday, which ended in chaotic clashes between black-clad, masked demonstrators, who kicked and beat police officers, hurling bricks and glass at them. Police retaliated with bursts of pepper spray and one officer pulled out a gun toward a crowd but did not fire, according to witnesses and Cable Television.
Protests planned throughout the week include evening demonstrations in five malls on Christmas Eve. A countdown rally is also planned near the city’s harbor front in the bustling Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district.
Protesters are also planning an event called “Suck the Christmas” on Christmas Day where they are expected to protest in different districts according to notices on social media.
The often-violent protests of the last six months have centered on the island’s freedom from the mainland China’s laws. But Sunday evening, the demonstrations expanded to the rights of the Uighurs, a minority in western China’s province of Xinjiang. “Upwards of a million” Uighurs have been detained, the United Nations has said. They are subject to regular arrest, confinement to re-education camps and to sophisticated electronic surveillance.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered — at first peacefully — at Edinburgh Place in support of the Uighurs. Police stormed the rally, witnesses said, after a Chinese flag was ripped off a pole near City Hall.
Protesters, some advocating Hong Kong independence, removed the national flag from its position at the protest site, a move the government said was illegal.
“Advocating Hong Kong independence … is not conducive to the overall and long term interest of Hong Kong society. It is also contrary to the established basic policies of the People’s Republic of China regarding Hong Kong,” the government said in a statement overnight.
The police said in a statement that when they tried to make an arrest, protesters hurled objects, and one person tried to snatch an officer’s gun. At least two people were arrested, the police said.
In another instance of the protests expanding beyond their initial scope, a demonstration is planned Monday, essentially against a police crackdown on protesters’ finances.
The protest is in support of the Spark Alliance, a shadowy group that has raised money to help support the demonstrators. Last week, the police arrested four people connected with the alliance for suspected money laundering.
The authorities froze 70 million Hong Kong dollars ($9 million) of bank deposits and personal insurance products linked to the fund, while confiscating HK$130,000 in cash.
Protests in Hong Kong are now in their seventh month, albeit in a relative lull compared to the scale and intensity of violence since they started in June.
Many residents are angry at what they see as Chinese 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.
Many Hong Kong people are also furious at perceived police brutality, and are demanding an independent investigation into allegations of excessive force. Other demands include the release of all arrested demonstrators and full democracy.