Hong Kong 'silent night' protests planned for Christmas Eve

Protesters hold a sign "Free HK" during a rally in Hong Kong on Dec 23, 2019. PHOTO: AP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong anti-government protesters plan to stage gatherings in prime shopping malls and a "silent night" rally in a popular tourist precinct on Christmas Eve on Tuesday (Dec 24), despite police warnings they would move in if trouble flares.

Police said they would not close roads to traffic in the Tsim Sha Tsui district, where large numbers of people traditionally gather on Christmas Eve to view the Christmas lights along a promenade bordering the city's iconic Victoria Harbour.

Police said that unlike previous years, most roads would not be closed off to traffic in the district, and there wouldn't initially be a large police presence, unless trouble begins to flare.

"Police officers will not, as in the past, be stationed in large numbers along the waterfront," Senior Superintendent Wong Chi-wai told reporters.

Online protester forums say demonstrators plan to gather in various malls on Christmas Eve, while others plan to march in Tsim Sha Tsui and count down to Christmas near the waterfront.

Next week, the Civil Human Rights Front, which has organised some of the biggest marches involving more than a million people, has applied to stage another march on New Year's Day.

The protests, now in their seventh month, have lost some of the scale and intensity of earlier confrontations.

Police have arrested more than 6,000 people since the protests escalated in June, including a large number during a protracted, violent siege at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in mid-November.

Many Hong Kong residents are angry at what they see as Beijing's meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering and says it is committed to the "one country, two systems" formula put in place at that time and has blamed foreign forces for fomenting unrest.

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