Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Hong Kong returned to chaos Christmas Eve after weeks of relative calm as riot police fired tear gas and clashed with pro-democracy protesters in busy shopping districts Tuesday night.
The clashes, mainly in the shopping districts of Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, continued into Wednesday morning as protesters, some donning Santa hats or reindeer horns, ignored the police's warnings to disperse.
Police said in a release that "a large group of rioters" erected barricades, damaged traffic lights and dug up bricks from the streets in Tsim Sha Tsui, warning them to disperse or they would deploy the "minimum necessary force" to arrest them.
Thousands had gathered outside Peninsula Hotel to disrupt traffic when at around 9 p.m. police fired tear gas, warning them to disperse as they were participating in an illegal assembly.
Forty-five minutes later, police again fired tear gas at protesters who were throwing objects into the street that was closed to traffic.
On Salisbury Road, police fired water laced with a pepper solution at protesters in a stand-off with officers.
Protesters also threw petrol bombs at the Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station, threatening the safety of officers inside, the force said.
In Mong Kok district, a handful of miles from Tsim Sha Tsui, police said protesters set fire to the entrance of the Mong Kok MTR station at around 10: 45 p.m. The MTR Service said the station was closed due to fire.
"Some of them poured flammable liquid to fan the flames," Hong Kong Police Force said on Twitter. "Earlier tonight, some rioters blocked the roads around Argyle Street and Portland Street in Mong Kok."
Protesters also stormed shops in Langhman Place, a shopping mall in Mong Kok, smashing shops, police said.
Demosisto, one of the activist groups that has organized protests during the months of chaos, said police fired rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas at protesters and plainclothes officers stormed shopping malls resulting in injuries.
"A man got shot in the nose and heavily bled," the group said via Twitter, accusing the police of aiming for people's heads.
"In the past, it was normal for Hong Kongers to gather in shopping malls on Christmas Eve. But now, you will be attacked by undercover [Hong Kong] Police with batons," it said.
The government condemned the violence Wednesday morning. In a statement, a government spokesman accused "rioters" of disrupting social order, affecting the "festive mood" and obstructing "other people from enjoying the festive season, which are outrageous."
Signaling out protesters waving Hong Kong independence flags, the spokesman said: "Hong Kong independence is inconsistent with the constitutional and legal status of the Kong Kong Special Administrative region ... and is not conducive to the overall and longer-term interest of Hong Kong society."
The semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong has been submerged in chaos since June over resistance to an extradition bill that would allow refugees from Chinese law sent to the mainland to be tried by Communist Party-controlled courts. The bill has since been scrapped but protests have evolved into a larger pro-democracy movement in the face of the government's crackdown.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam posted a short message to her Facebook page Tuesday night, wishing all Hong Kongers "a peaceful, safe and merry Christmas."
"Christmas is a day of joy," she said.