Hong Kong police clashed with democracy protesters, arresting 12 overnight as demonstrators staged one of the biggest rallies since the removal of road blockades in the city.
Ten men and two women, aged 13 to 43, were arrested for assaulting and obstructing police, disorderly conduct, criminal damage and failing to produce proof of identity, the government said in a statement Thursday.
In the Mong Kok district, around 500 to 1,000 demonstrators roamed around chanting slogans such as "I want real universal suffrage!" and carrying yellow accessories, including the umbrellas that have become the protests’ symbols, an Anadolu Agency correspondent at the scene reported.
They called on the city’s top political official, chief executive CY Leung, to step down on the eve of his visit to Beijing, as part of their ongoing campaign of "mobile occupations."
Tensions rose sharply at around 01.00 a.m. (05.00 p.m. GMT) after police set up cordons, preventing pedestrians and protesters from crossing roads.
As some protesters ignored the cordons and rushed across streets, police chased and wrestled them to the ground. Two officers were injured.
Police also used pepper spray and batons to disperse protesters who at one time rushed on to a short section of a major thoroughfare, Nathan Road, briefly occupying it.
Broadcast news footage showed protesters, one with a bloodied head, being held to the ground by several officers in Mong Kok -- the scene of some of the largest clashes during months of road blockades.
Protesters “caused chaos and blocked the roads,” the government said in its statement, explaining they had refused to comply with police announcements and warning banners urging them to leave the scene.
“Police, with no other alternatives, used the minimum level of force and took resolute actions, including using pepper spray and batons to stop the unlawful acts, and to disperse and arrest the protesters involved,” it added.
Meanwhile, protesters in the shopping district of Causeway Bay raised yellow umbrellas, singing Christmas carols and yelling: "I want real universal suffrage for Christmas!"
In Times Square, a banner supporting universal suffrage was hung from the top of a clock tower, only for police to pull it down amid jeers and singing, the South China Morning Post reported.
Kelu Fritz Craven, a member of the Students Awaken group that co-organized an authorized march to the government headquarters, was quoted by the Post as saying, "We want to remind people that we want true universal suffrage... and that the Umbrella revolution still continues.”
The protests – which involved more than 100,000 people at their peak – ended after two and a half months, with the clearance of the final and smallest site in Causeway Bay.
A total of 955 people were taken into custody since the beginning of the protests in September.
Demonstrators had been calling for a fully democratic election with open nominations for the territory's next chief executive in 2017. At the end of August, the Chinese government said it will allow "one man, one vote" suffrage but that candidates will have to be approved by a body loyal to Beijing.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” formula, which promised a high degree of autonomy from Beijing, including universal suffrage.