HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong anti-government protests fizzled on Friday after a night of clashes in a central bar district and prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong called for 100,000 people to take to the streets of the Chinese-ruled city on Saturday.
Flash mob protests in three shopping malls, promoted by activists online, failed to materialise.
Black-clad protesters, wearing banned face masks, mingled with fancy-dress Halloween revellers in the narrow, sloping streets of Lan Kwai Fong on Thursday, the first time the bar district had been targeted.
Police fired tear gas to break up the crowds down the hill in the Central business district and were heckled and verbally abused by revellers. TV footage showed police firing pepper spray directly into the faces of two protesters.
Anti-government protesters have taken to the streets for five months of sometimes violent unrest, angry at perceived Chinese meddling with the freedoms guaranteed to the city when it returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997. China denies the charge.
Saturday will be the start of the 22nd straight weekend of protests.
Police said on Friday they had seized stun guns and bombs made from cooking gas cylinders in recent days. One man was arrested for selling 20 extendible batons and 10 stun guns.
“The seizure of stun guns and home-made mechanical bombs is a bad omen,” Chief Superintendent of Police Public Relations Tse Chun-chung told reporters.
Activists have attacked police with petrol bombs, set street fires and trashed government buildings and businesses seen as pro-Beijing. One policeman was slashed in the neck with a knife last month.
Police have fired tear gas, pepper spray, water cannon, rubber bullets and occasional live rounds. Several people have been wounded.
Joshua Wong was disqualified on Tuesday from standing in upcoming district elections, a move he said was “clearly politically driven”.
“If more and more people, not only a few thousand, but if more than 100,000 Hong Kongers take to the streets tomorrow, it can let the world know how Hong Kong people fight for a free election,” he told reporters.
Wong was a leader of the student-led pro-democracy street protests of 2014 but has not been in the forefront of the current unrest.
Protesters are seeking universal suffrage for Hong Kong, whose chief executive is chosen by 1,200 largely establishment figures from a list of Beijing-approved candidates. China will “perfect” the way the leader is appointed and replaced, a senior Chinese official said on Friday, without giving details.
Government data on Thursday confirmed that Hong Kong slid into recession in the third quarter for the first time since the global financial crisis of 2008. Retail sales fell 18.3% in value in September from a year earlier, an eighth consecutive month of decline.
Reporting by Felix Tam, Donny Kwok, Twinnie Siu, Greg Torode and Tom Westbrook; Writing by Farah Master and Nick Macfie; Editing by Angus MacSwan