HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters briefly blocked one of Hong Kong’s main roads on New Year’s Eve after forming human chains across the city and marching through shopping malls, urging people not to give up the fight for democracy in 2020.
The protesters fled when police came to clear the road of objects such as umbrellas, street furniture and the metal skeleton of a Christmas tree decoration but then occupied other parts of the road. At least one man was arrested.
Authorities had canceled the popular midnight fireworks for the first time in a decade, citing security concerns. A “Symphony of Lights” was planned instead, involving projections on the city’s tallest skyscrapers after a countdown to midnight.
“This year there are no fireworks, but there will probably be tear gas somewhere,” said 25-year-old IT worker Sam. “For us it’s not really New Year’s Eve. We have to resist every day.”
Tuesday began with small-scale lunchtime rallies, followed by marches through several prime shopping malls and giant human chains in various districts across the Chinese-ruled city.
On Nathan Road, an important artery on the Kowloon peninsula, protesters in a chain stretching for several kilometers raised lit-up smartphones as passing cars and buses honked in support and tourists in party hats and 2020-shaped glasses took pictures. Many protesters held up cards reading “Let’s keep fighting together in 2020.”
The chain later spilled over onto the road, and some protesters built barricades and hid behind umbrellas. Traffic was blocked.
Dozens of people had earlier laid flowers at the Prince Edward metro station, scene of some of the most violent clashes with the police this summer.
Demonstrations dubbed “Suck the Eve” were planned for later in the night in the downtown district of Lan Kwai Fong, where people were already crammed into pubs, and the picturesque Victoria Harbour.
Wong, a 22-year-old freelance photographer who gave only his last name, said he did not feel like celebrating New Year.
“I can’t even celebrate my birthday. I choose to stand here because at least we can chant a little and it feels like I’m with family,” he said.
The protests began in June in response to a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party, and have evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement.
The protest movement is supported by 59% of city residents polled in a survey conducted for Reuters by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute. More than a third of respondents said they had attended an anti-government demonstration.
In a New Year’s Eve video message, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said more than six months of unrest in the Asian financial hub had caused sadness, anxiety, disappointment and rage.
“Let’s start 2020 with a new resolution, to restore order and harmony in society. So we can begin again, together,” Lam said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping extended his best wishes to Hong Kong residents in a speech carried by state television.
“Without a harmonious and stable environment, how can there be a home where people can live and work happily?” he said. “We sincerely hope for the best for Hong Kong and Hong Kong compatriots.”
Police say they have arrested nearly 6,500 people since the protests began escalating in what is the worst political crisis faced by the city in decades.
On Jan. 1, tens of thousands of people are expected to join a pro-democracy march that police have given the green light to.
The previous march organized by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) drew an estimated 800,000 people in early December.
Reporting by Jessie Pang, Mari Saito, Twinnie Siu, Sarah Wu, Tyrone Siu in HONG KONG and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; writing by Marius Zaharia; editing by Mike Collett-White, Philippa Fletcher and Timothy Heritage