Hong Kong riot police have fired tear gas at thousands of protesters, many wearing masks and reindeer horns, after scuffles in shopping centres and tourist areas.

Trouble flared as anti-government rallies escalated once again with crowds occupying roads outside the malls and nearby luxury hotels, including the Peninsula.

Scores of black clad, mask-wearing protesters chanted slogans including “Revive Hong Kong, revolution of our time”, and “Hong Kong independence”.

“Lots of people are shopping so it’s a good opportunity to spread the message and tell people what we are fighting for,” said Ken, an 18-year-old student.

Riot police arrive to disperse anti-government demonstrators protesting inside a shopping mall on Christmas Eve in Hong Kong, China, December 24, 2019
Image: Riot police arrive to disperse anti-government demonstrators

“We fight for freedom, we fight for our future.”

At one shopping centre in Mong Kok district, also on the Kowloon peninsula, police used pepper spray to disperse some protesters, according to local media.

Some protesters were planning to march in Tsim Sha Tsui and countdown to Christmas, according to notices on social media.

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The protests, now in their seventh month, have lost some of the scale and intensity of earlier violent confrontations.

Anti-government protesters are silhouetted at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) during a fire in Hong Kong, China, November 18, 2019
Image: Anti-government protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University last month

However, a peaceful rally earlier this month still drew 800,000 people, according to organisers, showing strong support for the movement.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which has organised some of the biggest marches involving more than a million people, has applied to stage another march on New Year’s Day.

Police have arrested more than 6,000 people since the protests escalated in June, including a large number during a protracted, violent siege at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in mid-November.

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Many Hong Kong residents are angry at what they see as Beijing’s meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula put in place at that time and has blamed foreign forces for fomenting unrest.