HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong is gearing up for demonstrations over the Christmas week with protesters planning to gather 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 on Sunday, which ended in clashes when black-clad, masked demonstrators attacked police with kicks and punches and threw bricks and bottles.
Police responded with bursts of pepper spray. One officer drew his pistol and pointed it toward a crowd but did not fire, Reuters witnesses said.
Protesters plan to gather in five malls on Christmas eve, and will count down to Christmas near the city’s harbor front in the bustling Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district.
Protests are also planned for various places on Christmas Day according to notices on social media.
The protests are now in their seventh month, albeit in a relative lull compared with the scale and intensity of earlier confrontations. Police have arrested more than 6,000 people since the protests intensified in June, including more than 52 in the past weekend.
Many Hong Kong 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 it. Police deny using excessive force.
Other demands of the protesters include the release of all arrested demonstrators and full democracy.
Earlier on Sunday, more than 1,000 people rallied in support of China’s ethnic Uighur Muslims, who have been detained en masse in camps in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
The rally had police permission but police said they had to take action after protesters assaulted officers to help an arrested person escape.
Protesters, some advocating Hong Kong independence, also removed the national flag from its position at the protest site, a move the government condemned as an illegal desecration.
Beijing and Hong Kong’s government have made clear any call for independence would never be tolerated.
“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 city government said in a statement overnight.
While police, including the leader of a major police union, have referred to the protesters as cockroaches, protesters routinely call the police dogs.
On Monday, public broadcaster RTHK broadcast a video of a police public relations officer playing down the significance of the term cockroach.
The officer said the term should not be “over-interpreted” because while it may be negative, another way to understand it was that cockroaches were “full of vitality”.
Reporting by Twinnie Siu; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel
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