Tear gas, water cannons and smashed ATMs mark Hong Kong new year protests

Hong Kong

A march drawing tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong on New Year’s Day spiralled into chaotic scenes as police fired several rounds of tear gas and water cannon at crowds including families before halting the event.

Key points:

  • Largely peaceful protests became violent after some protesters smashed ATMs
  • Protesters have directed their ire at global banking group HSBC
  • Human chains formed down roads to help ferry supplies to people on the frontlines

The violence broke out during the largely peaceful march as masses of citizens pressed authorities for further concessions in the Chinese-ruled city.

In the Wanchai bar district, some protesters had spray-painted graffiti and smashed cash machines in an HSBC bank branch when riot police moved in and pepper-sprayed crowds. Tear gas was then fired into the crowds, making some children cry.


People walk past fire set by protesters in Hong Kong on Wednesday. (AP: Vincent Yu)

The protesters, some with gas masks and clad in black, regrouped and formed their own lines as police blocked roads to prevent large crowds from completing the march as night fell.

Four Corners: Inside Hong Kong
Like a flash mob, they appear and then dissolve back into the city once their task is complete.

The atmosphere grew tense in several districts on Hong Kong island as hundreds of protesters dug in, forming road blocks, setting fires and throwing a few petrol bombs.

Human chains formed down roads to help ferry supplies to people on the front lines, including umbrellas and bricks.

Protesters have directed their ire at global banking group HSBC, alleging a link between the arrest of four members of a group that raised funds to support the protesters and an earlier closure of an HSBC account linked to the group. HSBC denies any connection.

A bronze lion at the bank’s headquarters was daubed with red paint and scorched by a fire.


Protesters react as police fire tear gas during the protest. (AP: Vincent Yu)

A bank spokesman said: “We strongly condemn the acts of vandalism and damage directed at our premises repeatedly in the last few days. We believe these are unjustified.”

‘Hong Kong people are not happy’

Earlier in the day, under grey clouds, citizens young and old, many dressed in black and some masked, carried signs such as “Freedom is not free” before setting off.

“It’s hard to utter ‘Happy New Year’ because Hong Kong people are not happy,” said a man named Tung, who was walking with his two-year-old son, mother and niece.

“Unless the five demands are achieved, and police are held accountable for their brutality, then we can’t have a real happy new year.”

He was referring to the push for concessions from the government, including full democracy, an amnesty for the more than 6,500 people arrested so far, and a powerful, independent investigation into police actions.


Police have used rubber bullets and occasional live rounds against protesters in addition to tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons. (Reuters: Tyrone Siu)

Along the route, a number of newly elected pro-democracy district politicians mingled with the crowds on their first day in office, some helping collect donations to assist the movement.

Youths also carried “Hong Kong Independence” flags and chanted that splitting the city from Chinese rule was the “only way out”.


Protesters are calling for better governance and democratic reforms in Hong Kong. (Reuters: Navesh Chitrakar)

“The government has already started the oppression before the New Year began … whoever is being oppressed, we will stand with them,” said Jimmy Sham, one of the leaders of the Civil Human Rights Front that organised the march.

Hong Kong’s countdown to 2047 Hong Kong was handed back to China with no framework for what would happen after the year 2047, leaving the city to carve an identity out of two ideologically opposed empires.

The organisers also condemned the police decision to cancel the rally.

Thousands of Hong Kong revellers had earlier welcomed in 2020 on neon-lit promenades along Victoria Harbour, chanting the movement’s signature slogan — “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our Time” — for the final seconds before clocks struck midnight.

China’s President Xi Jinping said in a New Year’s speech that Beijing will “resolutely safeguard the prosperity and stability” of Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” framework.

Many people in Hong Kong are angered by Beijing’s tight grip on the city, which was promised a high degree of autonomy under this framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.


A protester shows five demands gesture as Hong Kong people participate in the New Year’s Day demonstrations. (AP: Vincent Yu)

Beijing denies interference and blames the West for fomenting the unrest.

A group of 40 parliamentarians and dignitaries from 18 countries had written an open letter to Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam on New Year’s Eve, urging her to “seek genuine ways forward out of this crisis by addressing the grievances of Hong Kong people”.


Tens of thousands flooded the streets to make their demands heard. (Reuters: Navesh Chitrakar)

The protest movement is supported by 59 per cent of the city’s residents polled in a survey conducted for Reuters by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.

Demonstrations have grown increasingly violent in recent months, at times paralysing the Asian financial centre.

Protesters have thrown petrol bombs and rocks, while police have responded with tear gas, water cannons, pepper spray, rubber bullets and occasional live rounds. There have been several injuries.


Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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