A rally drawing tens of thousands of people on New Year’s Day ended with police firing tear gas and water cannon at crowds before abruptly ending the event hours before schedule.
Over the weekend, police issued a letter of no objection for the Civil Human Rights Front’s annual New Year’s Day rally and march to take place from 3pm to 10pm on New Year’s Day.
It was a largely peaceful march, but violence broke out before 5pm when some protesters vandalized an HSBC branch on Hennessy Road in Wan Chai. The bank has been a target of protester ire because they believe it had a hand in helping police with shutting down an account by the Spark Alliance, which was set up to raise funds that would cover, among other things, legal representation for arrested protesters.
Riot police moved in and there was a tense stand-off between officers and protesters, which culminated in police firing at least two rounds of tear gas at the intersection between Hennessy and Luard Roads at around 5:10pm.
Tear gas just fired on Luard Road in Wan Chai pic.twitter.com/ZmJZrtmRmL
— Vicky Wong 黃瑋殷 (@vickywong710) January 1, 2020
At 5:30pm — four-and-a-half hours before the march and rally was scheduled to end — CHRF announced that police had called off the rally and asked the organization to evacuate protesters within the next 30 minutes.
As night fell, protesters donned gas masks and formed lines as police blocked roads from Causeway Bay to Central to prevent people from completing the march, and water cannons were also deployed to Central and Causeway Bay.
Although CHRF said they were unable to do a proper head count of how many people took part in the rally, they estimated that about one million people took part, which is about the same number that took part in the first big rally on June 9 that kickstarted the ongoing protests. Police meanwhile said 60,000 people attended the march’s peak, and in a late night press briefing announced that 400 people were arrested for illegal assembly and possession of offensive weapons.
The New Year’s Day rally comes hours after Hongkongers counted down to the start of 2020 by chanting “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”
Although the annual fireworks display was canceled, there was a light show and hundreds of protesters gathered in Tsim Sha Tsui to count down to the start of the new year.
HK Protest New Year’s countdown, as the final seconds ticked down, the crowds chanted “Revolution of our times” in lieu of the last four seconds of 2019 #HK #HongKongProtests #2020 pic.twitter.com/Vlw6vi92jw
— James Pomfret (@jamespomfret) December 31, 2019
Police also fired tear gas within the first few minutes of 2020 to disperse protesters who had gathered in nearby Mong Kok.
And right on cue, the first tear gas of 2020. pic.twitter.com/LfbVBZZvru
— Ryan Ho Kilpatrick 何松濤 (@rhokilpatrick) December 31, 2019