Police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters over the weekend, breaking a relative calm that has lingered in the city shortly before and after the Nov. 24 District Council elections.
The police had earlier issued a letter of no objection to three public events scheduled for Sunday.
Organizers said at least 380,000 people joined a march in Tsim Sha Tsui, which began at 3 p.m., but the police estimated the crowd at 16,000 at the peak, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
As the procession was moving toward the Hong Kong Coliseum in Hung Hom from the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower, some of the protesters deviated from the original route and marched on Nathan Road toward Jordan shortly before 4 p.m.
Police then used pepper spray a few times and fired several rounds of pepper balls to force them to stay off the road.
At around 4 p.m., organizers announced the end of the march, but many of the marchers continued occupying the eastbound lanes of Salisbury Road, prompting officers to fire tear gas to disperse them without warning.
About an hour later, riot police and Special Tactical Squad officers charged into Salisbury Garden, using pepper spray and tear gas against protesters gathering in the area.
In a statement issued by the government on Sunday evening, the police said “at around 5 p.m., hundreds of rioters gathered near Empire Centre, Tsim Sha Tsui, and some of them hurled smoke bombs, stirring up public fear and causing chaos”.
“In the face of the situation, police officers had no other alternatives but deployed the minimum necessary force, including tear gas, to stop illegal acts,” the post said.
Police said in another statement that in the evening, “rioters have been blocking roads and inflicting extensive damages to the Whampoa area, endangering public safety and order. Rioters also assaulted a passer-by near Man Tai Street.”
“While the police officers were handling the assault case at the scene, rioters hurled bricks at them, seriously threatening the personal safety of everyone thereat,” according to the post.
Riot police fired more tear gas as well as non-lethal projectiles after protesters smashed up shops, restaurants and traffic lights in Whampoa, RTHK reported.
After 11 p.m., protesters firebombed an exit of Whampoa MTR Station, which had closed at 8 p.m., and set a fire, prompting police to rush to the scene.
In Mong Kok, black-clad protesters set up a roadblock and set it on fire. A petrol bomb was also hurled toward a police vehicle but missed.
At around 1 a.m., police fired tear gas at protesters near Nathan Road and Argyle Street to disperse them.
Eight people, including a woman, with ages ranging from 21 to 52, were injured in the clashes from Sunday to 7:30 a.m. on Monday, the Hospital Authority said.
Three remained in hospital in stable condition, while the rest had been discharged after treatment, it said.
Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of protesters staged a march from Chater Garden to the US consulate in Central to thank the United States for supporting the pro-democracy fight in Hong Kong.
The marchers waved American flags, with some donning Donald Trump logo hats and t-shirts, as they unfurled a banner depicting the US president standing astride a tank with a US flag behind him, Reuters reported.
Trump last week signed into law congressional legislation supporting protesters, despite angry objections from Beijing.
In the morning, protesters staged another march from Edinburgh Place to the government headquarters in Central.
Holding yellow balloons and waving banners that read “No tear gas, save our children”, they condemned what they said was the excessive and indiscriminate use of tear gas by the police.
Police have fired around 10,000 rounds of tear gas since June, according to Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu.
On Saturday, secondary school students and retirees joined forces to protest against what they called police brutality and unlawful arrests.
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