HONG KONG • At least 400 people were arrested in New Year's Day protests in Hong Kong, after what started as a peaceful pro-democracy march spiralled into chaotic scenes with police firing tear gas to disperse the crowds.
The arrests take the total to about 7,000 since protests in the city escalated in June over a now-withdrawn Bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China.
The tension on Wednesday rose after some arrests were made in the Wan Chai bar district near a branch of global banking group HSBC.
When scuffles broke out, large numbers of black-clad protesters rushed to the scene while others formed human chains to pass them supplies, including bricks, forcing police to bring in their own reinforcements. Police then asked organisers to call off the march early. The crowds eventually dispersed as a water cannon truck and scores of police in riot gear patrolled the streets late into the evening.
Mr Jimmy Sham, one of the leaders of the Civil Human Rights Front that organised the march, criticised the police decision to get the crowd to disperse at such short notice.
A 12-year-old boy was among the 420 people arrested over the New Year holiday. Police said they only made the arrests after giving sufficient time for demonstrators to leave. Four officers were injured during the day, they said.
Organisers estimated just over one million people took part in the New Year's Day march. Police put the number at 60,000 at its peak.
HSBC has largely escaped direct involvement in the often-violent anti-government protests. But it recently drew the ire of some protesters who accuse it of being complicit in the action by the authorities against activists trying to raise money to support their campaign. The bank denies any involvement.
Protesters on Wednesday targeted some of the bank's branches, spray-painting graffiti on their walls and a pair of iconic bronze lion statues, which they briefly set alight. HSBC yesterday said initial cleaning of the lions had begun.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Law Society and Bar Association have condemned the abusive graffiti that protesters sprayed on a court building during Wednesday's protests that insulted a judge by name.
"Abusive comments implying that judicial decisions were made or influenced by political considerations are wholly unjustified," the groups said yesterday.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG