Hong Kong police launched tear gas a few minutes before 2020 on Wednesday when pro-democratic protesters led their movement into the new year with countdown demonstrations at midnight and a massive march scheduled for January 1.
The city has been hit by more than six months of riots with marches attended by millions, as well as clashes in which police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets, and protesters have responded with gasoline bombs.
Before midnight on Tuesday, thousands of protesters gathered at the financial center, even along the coast of Victoria Harbor and at the Lan Kwai Fong nightlife point.
Protesters at the port said: "Ten! Nine! Free Hong Kong, revolution now!" while they lit their phones in a sea of lights.
Small crowds of protesters in the Mong Kok district set fire to the barricades early Wednesday, which caused riot police to unleash the first tear gas discharges in 2020.
Shortly before the end of the last day of 2019, police used water cannons to disperse protesters in the same area, while, in the nearby neighborhood of Prince Edward, officers arrested several protesters in a candlelight vigil.
Protests in Hong Kong | Start here | Ep. 6 6
Earlier in the night, thousands of people joined weapons in human chains that stretched for miles along busy shopping streets and local neighborhoods.
They sang slogans, sang "Glory to Hong Kong,quot;, a protest anthem, and showed posters asking people to fight for democracy in 2020.
"Thanks to 2019, he ripped off the ugly masks of the police and the government and allowed people to see the truth," said protester Kris, a doctor who joined the protest.
"The movement is like a bottleneck now. Hopefully, a great participation in tomorrow's march can bring back people's passion," he added.
The city's traditional end-of-year fireworks display was canceled due to security concerns, but instead a smaller scale light and fireworks show was held.
In late November, the city's pro-democratic camp won a landslide victory in a municipal-level vote seen as a referendum on the management of political discontent by the Beijing-backed government.
The protest movement has become quieter since then, but sporadic clashes have persisted.
In a New Year's video message broadcast in state media, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Hong Kong's recent turmoil was worrisome and that the "people of our country,quot; expected stability in the restless city.
But protesters have promised to continue their efforts to promote greater democratic freedoms and police responsibility.
On Tuesday night, protesters also packed up major shopping centers, which have become regular protest venues in an effort to cause economic disruption.
"2019 is an extraordinary and special year for all Hong Kong people," 25-year-old teacher Sam told AFP while celebrating New Year's Eve with his family at the port.
The Civil Front of Human Rights, the main organizer of the marches, expects a large participation in the demonstration on Wednesday to urge the government to respond to the demands of the prodemocratic movement, which includes an independent investigation by the police, amnesty for detainees and full free elections.
Police have arrested nearly 6,500 people since June, almost a third of them under 20.
"Young people have sacrificed a lot for justice … 2019 is a wake-up call," a 63-year-old retiree who gave his last name as Shiu told the AFP news agency.
"People will be more determined in the new year. People know that Hong Kong's future depends on whether we can meet the five demands."
The demonstrations were triggered by a bill now abandoned to allow extraditions to the authoritarian continent, but since then they have become a popular revolt against the control of Beijing, the biggest crisis since the return of the former British colony to the Chinese government in 1997 .