Hong Kong Protesters Return to Streets as New Year Begins

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong protesters began the new year the way they’d spent much of the old one: in the streets.

Nearly a month of relative quiet abruptly ended on Wednesday with the sounds of protesters’ chants and police officers’ tear-gas rifles.

A peaceful New Year’s Day march descended within a few hours into violent clashes. Riot officers deployed water cannons and pepper spray. Protesters built barricades out of umbrellas and paving stones, and vandalized at least two branches of a leading bank in the city, HSBC.

At the heart of the protests is concern about the erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong, a former colony that was promised a unique set of freedoms when Britain handed it back to China in 1997. Those fears have been compounded by economic issues, including soaring housing prices, income inequality and a dearth of high-paying jobs.

On Wednesday, at least five people were detained for vandalizing a glass door and ATMs at a branch of HSBC, which had shut down Spark Alliance’s account. Banks and businesses that are perceived to have links to mainland China or the Hong Kong government have been targeted for vandalism or boycotts by some protesters.

One witness, Kan Cheng, said she saw as many as nine undercover police officers beating two young people near the bank’s broken door.

Reporting was contributed by Ezra Cheung, Katherine Li and Jamie Tarabay from Hong Kong, and Chris Buckley from Beijing.

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