Riot police restrained at least 15 people and fired pepper spray in the northern Hong Kong border town of Sheung Shui on Saturday, after about 300 masked demonstrators gathered in a major mall to protest against so-called parallel traders and shoppers from mainland China.
In the evening, trouble flared at the Telford Plaza shopping centre in Kowloon Bay, as dozens of protesters marched through the mall. Plain-clothes police subdued and arrested at least five people after protesters confronted officers.
Earlier, in Sheung Shui, protesters showed up in the Landmark North shopping centre and on a footbridge from the mall to the MTR railway station, kicking shopping bags and suitcases of mainland visitors, who fled the scene, some leaving goods behind.
Two women screamed “help!” and ran into the station, while a man was injured after scuffles with protesters, who said he took photos of them and tried to push his way through the crowd.
The protests followed days of demonstrations and confrontations with police over Christmas, which led to more than 336 arrests from Monday to Friday morning. Protesters have also vowed to return to the streets for a mass rally on January 1 to ring in the new year.
The protesters started to gather at 3pm on Saturday in Sheung Shui, heeding online calls to go “shopping” in Landmark North.
Anti-government protesters and localists have long railed against the influx of parallel traders – those who buy tax-free goods in Hong Kong in bulk and resell them on the mainland to turn a profit – and shoppers from across the border, which they said had led to crowded streets, a shortage of groceries and daily necessities and the deterioration of living standards in the community.
Chanting slogans like “go back to the mainland”, “shop in China if you love the mainland”, as well as common anti-government rallying cries such as “five demands, not one less” and “disband the police force”, the protest had grown in numbers by 3.30pm as the group marched through the mall.
About 90 per cent of shops closed their shutters, some with customers still inside.
Chan, a 20-year-old protester, was upset by changes he had seen in his hometown.
“I have lived in Sheung Shui all my life, and seen with my own eyes the complete transformation of the local community, which has been taken over by mainlanders,” he said. “I don’t mind causing some shops to lose business as they mostly serve goods popular with mainland customers.”
Shortly after 4pm, dozens of riot police charged into the mall, rushing up to the fourth floor to pin down at least 15 protesters. About 45 minutes later, riot police on the ground floor fired pepper spray after protesters heckled them.
In a Facebook post, police said they entered the mall because “masked rioters” were causing a nuisance and had thrown nails into shops. “Their acts disturbed public order. In the face of their illegal acts, riot police entered the mall for law enforcement,” the post said.
During the clashes, 41-year-old blind lawyer Joy Luk, who frequently attends protests, said she was pushed to the ground by a policewoman. “She told me to walk backwards, knowing full well I can’t see anything,” Luk said.
By 5.10pm, riot police had taken away at least 15 people and left the mall. About 100 protesters remained on the bridge outside, and scuffled occasionally with mainland shoppers, who had luggage kicked and goods such as biscuits and trainers scattered on the ground.
A mainland shopper, who gave his name as Lam, said he had not been aware of protests in the area before he arrived. “I won’t come back again for shopping, as we are clearly not welcome,” he said.
Local shopper Wong said she was not particularly bothered by the protests. “Look around you, you can see many elderly residents and local supporters joining in, wearing masks and shouting slogans, too. This tells you the groundswell and depth of anger in the local community, which has seen its local identity and culture changed beyond recognition in recent years.”
Daisy Chan, a convenience store worker, said business was down about 20 per cent. “Protesters come and go, but their clashes with police and the subsequent lockdown of the mall actually hurt us more in terms of customers.”
Over in Kowloon Bay, riot police rushed into the Telford Plaza mall at about 8pm, pushing people back and briefly raising a blue flag warning of an illegal assembly. Plain-clothes officers were later seen taking at least five people away, one of whom was bleeding from the face.
A statement from the force said riot police had entered the mall after “masked rioters caused a nuisance and disturbed public peace … and assaulted police officers”.
A torn mask and bloodstains were seen at the scene. Witnesses said the blood was from a young girl who had been arrested earlier.
Secondary school pupil Jack, 17, took the bus to Telford Plaza at about 7pm after protesting in Sheung Shui. He said only about 30 protesters turned up at short notice, and they shouted at plain-clothes officers after discovering who they were.
“Just like in Sheung Shui, there were no vandalism or damage of shops. Police are now openly clamping down on peaceful demonstrations,” he said.
During the operation at Telford Plaza, plain-clothes officers wore orange armbands – those in Sheung Shui had worn pink ones – to identify themselves and to avoid mistakenly targeting their colleagues.
Riot police wrongly intercepted a masked plain-clothes officer armed with a baton during a clearance operation outside Tai Po Mega Mall on Thursday. The detective was released after shouting “same team”.
Meanwhile in Tin Shui Wai, hundreds gathered for a peaceful students’ rally themed “continue the revolution, do not forget your roots”. Speakers included pupils, student journalists, teachers and four newly elected Yuen Long district councillors.
More from South China Morning Post:
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- Police use tear gas, pepper spray as Hong Kong Christmas protests turn ugly