Hong Kong police fire tear gas at new year's mass march through city
Hong Kong’s police chiefs called off a mass pro-democracy rally on New Year’s Day after firing tear gas when an HSBC bank was vandalised, in an abrupt move that immediately began to inflame tensions on the streets.
The decision came as tens of thousands of people, including families, the elderly, and students were already en route through the city, demanding more rights and concessions from the embattled government as the seven-month protest in the Chinese-ruled financial hub spills into 2020.
The march, which began peacefully in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, had received official police approval, but angry scenes flared up between protesters and riot officers when the windows of a downtown HSBC branch were smashed, and the police responded with tear gas and pepper spray, arresting five.
HSBC has become the target of protesters’ ire after closing the bank account of a group that was offering financial assistance to the pro-democracy movement. The city’s largest bank defended the decision as being in accordance with international regulatory standards.
Shortly after the altercation, the police force instructed the march organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front, to end the procession several hours early and immediately disperse the crowds – creating a logistical nightmare in the crammed streets.
In response, hardline groups began to set up roadblocks as Raptors, the riot police’s elite unit, began to advance on the crowds, raising fears of an evening of violence.
Wednesday’s huge turnout built on a series of massive protests, which began in June to counter a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to be sent for trial in China, and escalated into a wider push for democratic elections and the resignation of Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive.
Protesters are also demanding an amnesty for over 6,500 people who have been arrested so far, and for a powerful, independent investigation into police actions amid widespread accusations of brutality and a breakdown in public trust. The force has denied the allegations.
Mr Chan, 52, who was marching with his eight-year-old grandson, said: “There’s so much unfairness in our society, especially look at how the police brutally treat the people. As an adult, I have the responsibility to bring the next generation.”
“Ideology has to be socialised from generation to generation. I was at the generation when Tiananmen Square Massacre happened. I marched at this exact same park 30 years ago,” he said.
“This is my grandson and I’ve been passing this idea for two generations. Democracy is not free, you have do something to earn it. Our youngsters though are suffering. This movement is not going to end.”
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.
Claudia Mo, a pan-democratic member of the Legislative Council, the city’s parliament, told the Telegraph that the landslide victory for democrats in November’s district elections had led to a “mass psychology” where “the majority of Hong Kong people want change for the better, towards a more democratic” government.
The protest movement would continue up to the Legislative Council elections in September and beyond, she predicted.
“Our fight will go on and on, and probably for generations to come because the root causes are so deep that they are not going away.”