Hong Kong police brought a planned shopping mall protest to a premature end on Friday, firing pepper spray at least once.

Riot police in New Town Plaza on May 1. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Hundreds began to gather at New Town Plaza in Sha Tin – a regular flashpoint during last year’s unrest – at around 6.30pm, in response to online calls to “Sing with you” at 7.30pm. The event coincided with plans to gather and shout protest slogans across various neighbourhoods on Labour Day.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

Shortly before 6:30pm, police lined up around nine people and searched their bags.

Riot police holds his shield as he urges journalists to move back. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

At around 7pm, hundreds of riot police swept in to clear crowds, setting up cordon lines along the atrium and three floors above.

An officer from the Police Public Relations Branch is urging journalists to step back as the police extend its cordon. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung, who was at the scene, told HKFP he did not understand the rationale behind the clearance.

“They said we cannot stay here but, obviously, we are not here in breach of any of the law. When they say in the name of safety I have absolutely no idea what they mean,” he said.

Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung in New Town Plaza on May 1. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“As a legislator, I’m simply here to observe and make sure the police are not abusing their powers,” Yeung added.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

Shortly after 7.15pm, as police confronted bystanders, an officer fired pepper spray at a surrounding crowd including Sha Tin District Councillor Leticia Wong as well as journalists.

Officers told protesters they were violating social distancing rules enacted to prevent gatherings of more than four people during the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Ng, in his 70s, said he did not know netizens had called for a “Sing with you” protest at the mall.

He and his girlfriend planned to have dinner and go shopping in the mall before police entered at around 6 pm.

Riot police officers and members of the press in New Town Plaza in Sha Tin on May 1. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

He slammed the police operation as “unnecessary,” saying that protesters were within their right to sing and chant slogans in the plaza.

A group of citizens are stuck in a corridor inside New Town Plaza after the police cordoned off different parts of the mall. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“I’m very dissatisfied with the police action. [The government] always talks about reviving the economy, but now police have ruined my mood and plan to shop, and forced shops to close,” he said.

A child is leaving New Town Plaza after police sealed off most parts of the mall. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“I don’t oppose [the ‘Sing with you’ protest] because Hong Kong is a free society, so it’s reasonable for to express their views in this way,” he added.