The final day of Hong Kong’s three-day Christmas break ended with a repeat of the previous days’ rowdy scenes when mobs of black-clad radicals swept through the city’s major malls, ruffling shoppers and smashing stores perceived as pro-Beijing.
Shrieking slogans and laughter, they muscled through the crowds of panicked pedestrians, diners and salespersons and would only thin out once riot police were called in.
During the three-day break the police subdued and arrested over 100 suspects on charges including vandalism, loitering, assaulting police officers and possession of offensive weapons in shopping malls and precincts throughout the city.
The return of the familiar scenes of running battles between radicals and constables led many in the protest-weary city to wonder if the relative calm since November’s district council election was over.
Protesters unleashed widespread disruption, throwing punches, glass bottles and even paint bombs in response to calls from hardcore radicals.
Their professed goal was to overrun major malls and thus pile more pressure and inflict pain on the city’s retail and business sector – especially businesses toeing the government’s line – and force them in turn to prevail on officials to meet the protesters’ demands, including universal suffrage and probing police’s excessive use of force.
On Thursday their goal to trash the city’s celebrations and mar people’s mood to spend on Boxing Day, traditionally a bumper day for sales, was partially successful. Six malls were forced to pull down their shutters on Thursday while others still open saw overall Christmas takings plunge by a third, year-on-year.
That was in line with the 30% drop in revenue for many retailers and catering companies in November, according to Shiu Ka-fai, a lawmaker representing the city’s wholesale and retail functional constituency.
Shiu warned that, short of forcing the authorities to kneel down, the protesters’ plan to storm malls and scare away spenders would only lead to business closures and lay-offs.
Those especially hit hard by the three days of shopping mall protests included the sprawling Harbor City in Tsim Sha Tsui and Times Square in Causeway Bay, owned by realty and retail giant Wharf; the New Town Plaza and Tai Po Mega Mall in the New Territories, owned by Sun Hung Kai Properties; and the Langham Place and MOKO mall in Mongkok.
In one case, protesters allegedly harassed diners inside a restaurant owned by the pro-Beijing Maxim’s group in the MOKO mall. Protesters occupied seats, spilled sauces all over the place and even attacked police officers with makeshift paint bombs when they were surrounded.
Rupert Dover, the deputy commander of the police’s New Territories south district, was also hit by what was believed to be acid solution from a police pepper spray during a fierce scuffle in the New Town Plaza on Wednesday as a riot squad tried to nab protesters.
Local papers also reported that many Hongkongers who used to stay up late shopping or reveling during breaks and holidays now had to adjust their schedules to go to malls in the morning to avoid protesters.
While many malls scrambled cleaners to clear their premises of debris and shattered glass overnight for business on Friday, HSBC decided to shut its Kowloon office and key branch in Mongkok indefinitely.
Wooden boards have been put up around the bank’s building on Nathan Road where radicals clashed with the police day in and day out, with a notice advising customers to visit other branches, or use its phone or internet banking services.
The branch of the British banking giant became a lighting rod for vandals after it closed bank accounts suspected of accepting donations from Hongkongers in support of protesters and freezing about HK$70 million (US$8.99 million) raised by the Spark Alliance, a fund-raising platform for protesters.
Although the bank categorically denied that the closure had been mandated by the police, protesters still smashed glass curtains and even set alight ATMs at its branch in Mongkok during the past few days, after they failed to storm HSBC’s headquarters building in Central which had been placed under a lockdown.
Wonder what your customer really wants? Ask. Don’t tell.