Hong Kong police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters, many wearing reindeer masks and antlers, after fighting in shopping malls and a tourist district, while anti-government demonstrations increased chaos on Christmas Eve.
Protesters inside the malls threw umbrellas and other objects at the police, who responded by hitting some protesters with batons, one aiming the gun at the crowd but not firing.
Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters occupying the main streets outside nearby shopping malls and luxury hotels.
Many families with children gathered in the same area to watch Christmas lights along the promenade in Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui East tourist district, the spectacular scenery of Hong Kong Island on the opposite side of the harbor.
The protests, now in their seventh month, have lost some of the scale and intensity of previous violent clashes. A peaceful demonstration earlier this month still attracted 800,000 people, organizers said, showing strong support for the movement.
Dozens of black-masked protesters chanted slogans like "Revive Hong Kong, the Revolution of Our Time" and "Hong Kong Independence" as they roamed the malls.
"A lot of people are shopping, so it's a good opportunity to spread the message and tell people what we're up against," said Ken, an 18-year-old student.
"We fight for freedom, we fight for our future."
At a mall in Mong Kok district, also on the Kowloon Peninsula, police used pepper spray to disperse some protesters, according to cable TV.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized some of the largest marches involving more than one million people, applied for another March on New Year's Day.
Police have arrested more than 6,000 people since the protests escalated in June, including a large number during a prolonged and violent siege at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in mid-November.
Dissatisfaction with Beijing
Many Hong Kong residents are angry at what they consider Beijing's intrusion into the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
China denies interference and says it is committed to the "one country, two systems" formula implemented at the time and blamed foreign forces for fomenting unrest.
Copyright © Thomson Reuters.