By Joyce Zhou and Xihao Jiang
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police arrested about a dozen protesters and used pepper spray on Saturday to break up a protest in a shopping mall aimed at disrupting retail businesses near the border with mainland China.
Demonstrators have been targeting malls across Hong Kong since earlier this week and more than a hundred protesters, many dressed in black with face masks, marched through a mall in Sheung Shui on Saturday, chanting “Go back to China”.
Sheung Shui, which is just over the border from the Chinese city of Shenzhen, is popular with so-called parallel traders who buy large volumes of duty-free goods in Hong Kong and then sell them on the mainland.
The Chinese traders have become a target for protesters in Hong Kong, who are blame them for overcrowding and pushing up prices and rents.
“Our intention is to make shops close their gates. There are many parallel traders, we want to cast them out,” said Kelly, a 17-year-old protester wearing mask.
Police wrestled one protester to the ground and pepper sprayed his face before handcuffing him. Many shops closed early and shoppers hurried out of the mall.
The protests in Hong Kong began more than six months ago in response to a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party.
The demonstrations have since evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement and became more confrontational over the festive season.
More protests are planned in the next few days, including a countdown to New Year’s Day and a march on Jan. 1 organized by the civil human rights front that could attract thousands.
Many protesters have been angered by what they see as the use of unnecessary force by police and have demanded an independent inquiry into the force’s behavior.
Hong Kong police have earned a total of $17.3 million in meal and work-related allowances during the past six months of anti-government protests, government figures showed on Friday.
Demonstrators are also angry at what they perceive as increased meddling by Beijing in freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
China denies interfering, saying it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula put in place at that time, and blames foreign forces for fomenting unrest.
(Writing by Clare Jim; Editing by David Clarke)