A busy shopping mall in Hong Kong's suburban Sha Tin district was cordoned off by police as anti-government protesters rallied for a singing protest Friday.
Hundreds of riot police stormed into the New Town Plaza before the protest was scheduled to begin, clearing out most of the people inside on grounds that they have breached the no-public gathering rules imposed for the virus pandemic.
Pepper spray was fired into the crowd during a brief scuffle between police and some receding protesters, before police gained control of the scene.
While most shoppers were gone, some people who stayed chanted slogans against the police and refreshed demands made in massive anti-government demonstrations that began since June last year, including for vindication of the movement and more democracy.
"Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong," the protesters chanted. "Five demands, not one less."
Among the social distancing measures still in place to fight the pandemic was a ban on public gatherings of more than four people, which protesters claimed police have exploited to curb all protests.
A march for labor rights protest was banned by police citing concerns of public health issues, while street booths set up across the territory by the protest organizer were under tight police watch.
Earlier in the day, people gathering near the booths in the busy Mong Kok district and the Kwun Tong district in Kowloon were turned away by police, while those who manned the booths were fined for breaking the ban on gatherings.
While more protests are planned for the weeks to come, it is expected that none will be allowed as long as the social distancing rules remain in place.
Last year's anti-government demonstrations, originally sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill, escalated in June but eventually faded amid the spread of the virus.