Clashes break out at Hong Kong mall rallies over weekend, shattering relative calm

Riot police make an arrest during a scrum at the New Town Plaza shopping mall in Sha Tin on Dec. 15, 2019. Screengrab via YouTube.
Riot police make an arrest during a scrum at the New Town Plaza shopping mall in Sha Tin on Dec. 15, 2019. Screengrab via YouTube.

After weeks of relative peace in the city’s protest movement — which had grown increasingly violent after months of government intransigence — a string of rallies yesterday again descended into the kind of clashes between protesters and police that had been a hallmark of the months-long crisis.

With Chief Executive Carrie Lam in Beijing, where she is expected to report on Hong Kong’s political and economic situation, protesters on Sunday reprised their “Christmas shop with you” protests at major shopping malls, including New Town Plaza, Telford Plaza, Metro Plaza, Harbour City and more.

At around 2pm, 20 protesters gathered at Telford Plaza in Kowloon Bay to chant slogans and sing protest anthems, HK01 reports. Some also allegedly sprayed graffiti on the front of a Maxims restaurant that read: “Eat at Maxim’s, lose your conscience.” (The restaurant chain and its corporate affiliates have along been a target of protesters’ ire thanks to critical public comments made by the owner’s daughter.)

Riot cops arrived around an hour later, according to Apple Daily, and arrested at least one woman. During police action, officers fired pepper spray at the crowd, hitting a child and a reporter was hit, and drawing outcry from onlookers and netizens for their “indiscriminate” use of force.

At least two men and two women, aged 15 to 32, were arrested at Telford.

Meanwhile, similar incidents at Sha Tin’s New Town Plaza also prompted an outcry after videos emerged of men wielding batons and appearing to attempt to make arrests without identifying themselves as police officers.

In one video purportedly taken at around 4pm, a group of men in plainclothes with batons were spotted in the mall subduing two protesters to the floor. Despite telling people to stand back, the men can’t be seen displaying warrant cards or verbally identifying themselves as police officers, though at times the audio isn’t clear.

Though the collapsible batons they carried were like those used by police, similar models have also increasingly found their way into civilian hands in recent months.

The men quickly find themselves grappling with both their suspects and angry onlookers, who shout for them to identify themselves. After some time, a security guard dressed in a neon jacket intervenes and urges the men to leave, which they hurriedly do, pursued by shouting protesters.

The video was reminiscent of a recent incident in which an American banker was charged with assault for wrestling with an off-duty cop who had also initially refused to identify himself.

In another viral video, after police apparently called for reinforcements, riot cops can be seen pinning a few protesters to the floor as a man in a blue hoodie holding shopping bags drags what appears to a hammer along the floor with his foot, pushing it towards a nearby officer.

The officer then slides the hammer towards the suspects with his own foot, prompting accusations of police planting evidence, though it’s unclear where the hammer came from in the first place.

In a statement, police accused protesters of vandalizing shops in the mall, and said that one had thrown some kind of smoke bomb near a bus stop outside of Sha Tin MTR.

Apple Daily reports that at least 10 men and 2 women, aged 14 to 27, were arrested at New Town.

Police also fired tear gas on the streets of Mong Kok last night after protesters gathered there. In a statement, the force accused protesters of blocking streets, setting fires, and hurling projectiles at officers.

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