Protesters and police clashed violently in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok district early Tuesday morning in a confrontation over a recent health inspector crackdown on illegal food hawkers, according to local media reports.
The violence, which reports links to a Hong Kong Indigenous group that seeks to retain Hong Kong independence, is reminiscent of the 2014 clashes between pro-democracy protesters and police that rattled retailers. It coincides with the Chinese New Year holiday, which is a peak time for food shopping.
The protesters wielded brick and bottle attacks on police and lit fires in the middle of streets, according to The South China Morning Post. Videos posted online showed a mass of protesters pelting police with slabs of wood and other objects. The SCMP reported that 48 police officers and four journalists were injured. Police arrested 23 protesters.
Mong Kok is a lively, working-class neighborhood in Kowloon.
“Radical elements have come with self-made weapons and shields and clashed with police,” Crusade Yau Siu-kei, deputy Mong Kok district commander, told the SCMP. “The situation ran out of control and became a riot.”
The riot comes at a time when Hong Kong’s retail industry is already suffering, thanks to mainland Chinese tourists’ increasing tendency to travel and shop elsewhere, such as Europe and Japan. Also the appreciation of the Hong Kong dollar on the back of the U.S. dollar is making the city more expensive than many other destinations. Hong Kong’s retail sales slid 8.5 percent in December and 7.8 percent in November.
“Luxury tourist spend in Hong Kong has decreased significantly, and is expected to continue declining,” Exane BNP Paribas’ luxury goods analyst team wrote in a research report earlier this month.