A huge crowd gathered in Hong Kong Wednesday for an annual New Year's Day protest march as the monthslong pro-democracy movement extends into 2020.
The massive rally followed overnight clashes between police and protesters on New Year's Eve in a densely populated shopping district. Police also used tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons to break up groups of demonstrators who blocked traffic and lit fires in the street in the working class district of Mong Kok.
Hong Kong toned down its New Year's celebrations amid the protests that began in June and which have dealt severe blows to the city's retail, tourism and nightlife sectors.
Eric Lai, the vice convener of the march organizer, the Civil Human Rights Front, said he hoped to avoid a recurrence of the previous night's violence.
“I really hope that this will be a peaceful protest,” Lai said. “We hope that the police can facilitate us, rather than provoking us, and to fire tear gas and water cannon at us."
This year's event appeared to be significantly larger than in past years, although estimates of the numbers of participants often vary widely between organizers and police. Riot police were positioned in side streets along the march route, but there were no immediate reports of clashes.
The protests began in June over proposed legislation that could have allowed residents to be extradited to China where they could face possible torture and unfair trials. The legislation was withdrawn, but not before the protests expanded to wider calls for reforms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.