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Saturday, Sep 19, 2020

Protests to rock HK’s malls at Christmas, New Year

Sunday saw clashes between radicals and police inside upmarket malls as retailers fear lost sales and sabotage

Radical protesters are planning to target as many as 10 Hong Kong shopping malls on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in a bid to pressure the government into addressing their demands.

At a time when retailers were hoping for bumper sales during the Christmas and New Year holiday season, what could be in store is another bout of battles between protesters and police as hardcore demonstrators shun calls for a “year-end reprieve” from officials and retailers.

Instead, protesters have threatened to rain on the government’s parade and halt citywide celebrations after their previous tactics to force the authorities to accede to their demands – an independent probe into alleged police brutality, an amnesty for those arrested or charged as well as universal suffrage – were all futile.

A repeat of the rowdy scenes last weekend when radicals fought street battles with police in many of Hong Kong’s high-end shopping arcades may be the case for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and protest slogans and police sirens may drown out church bells and countdown cheers in the city.

A call-out has been sounded and relayed on forums and messaging apps trusted by protesters to muster their ranks in a fresh plan to overrun a total of 10 shopping centers throughout the territory on Christmas Eve.

The strategy is to stop consumption to slow the already ailing local economy and pressure the government into responding to their calls.

The malls targeted include flagship properties owned by the British conglomerate Swire and local realty and retail juggernauts Wharf and Sun Hung Kai, like the ifc mall, Pacific Place and Times Square on Hong Kong Island, Harbor City and Langham Place in Kowloon and New Town Plaza in the New Territories.

Many of these malls were already partially shut or trashed on Sunday evening when scrums of black-clad protesters muscled their way through crowds of shoppers and tourists. They chanted slogans and smashed shops perceived as “pro-China, anti-protest businesses,” such as Bank of China branches, Huawei phone stores as well as eateries owned by local catering group Maxim’s.

The New Town Plaza in Sha Tin, a popular one-stop shopping destination but now a protest hotspot hit by waves of sabotage since June, was again a target on Sunday as rioters rampaged through the sprawling mall and smashed closed shops and tore apart plastic and wooden boards erected on the edges of many floors after glass balustrades had been destroyed in previous rounds of vandalism.

One shopper in the mall had her face splattered with black paint following a fierce altercation with protesters as they scrawled graffiti everywhere, while diners had their unfinished dishes tossed into trash bins when radicals stormed Maxim’s restaurants. Riot police nabbed about 12 people there in scuffles throughout the day.

Some of these malls on the list of the Christmas Eve rally will pull down the shutters for the sake of safety as business has largely dried up anyway. However, Swire and Sun Hung Kai Properties noted in separate replies to media inquires that they would make flexible arrangements to keep their malls open as long as possible and ensure the safety of customers and staff.

What were originally peaceful processions against a now-withdrawn China extradition bill have morphed into large and sometimes violent protests calling for more democracy and safeguarding Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms.

The six months of unrest have decimated the city’s tourism and retail industries with total takings plunging by about a quarter year-on-year in October, the largest single monthly drop ever on record, according to data from the government.

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