HONG KONG, CHINA - DECEMBER 8: Pro-democracy protesters march on a street as they take part in a demonstration on December 8, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Police and firefighters entered the university that has been occupied by pro-democracy protesters for the past 10 days, to remove hazardous items and restore safety. Demonstrations in Hong Kong stretched into its sixth month as pro-democracy groups won the recent District Council elections, continuing demands for an independent inquiry into police brutality, the retraction of the word "riot" to describe the rallies, and genuine universal suffrage. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
Hong Kong risks losing a generation of future leaders
03:54 - Source: CNN
Hong Kong CNN  — 

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong on New Year’s Day, but the march was later called off after police said bricks and petrol bombs had been thrown.

Police used tear gas briefly Wednesday during confrontations with protesters, after what had begun as a largely peaceful event.

They said “thugs” had thrown bricks and petrol bombs, set fires, and damaged banks and shops during the demonstration.

A Hong Kong protestor shows a five demands gesture, during a march on Wednesday.

The police added that the actions “seriously endangered the safety of the people present” and had negotiated with the organizers – Civil Rights Front – to end the rally in Victoria Park.

Five males – the youngest aged 13 – were arrested along the protest route for possession of weapons including “extendable batons, hammers, spanners and knuckle dusters,” police said.

However, organizers condemned officers for “forcing” them to end the march, adding that the police were “full of lies” about the event and “aim to separate Hong Kongers.”

They say that after police arrested people “it was quite peaceful” and officers then retreated – “but simultaneously deployed tear gas.”

Pro-democracy supporters hold placards during a New Years Day rally.

Despite calls from the event organizers to leave the area, thousands of protesters remained on the streets on Wednesday evening.

Event organizers said over a million people had taken part in the march. The police estimate was significantly lower, with authorities suggesting 60,560 people had participated, and that just 13,000 of those remained inside Victoria Park on Wednesday evening.

Activists of all ages began gathering in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island on Wednesday afternoon local time, with some waving flags that read “Hong Kong independence.”

Others donned masks of Pepe the Frog, an internet meme that has been adopted as one of the symbols of the city’s long-running protest movement.

Protests continue into 2020

There have been more than 1,000 demonstrations in Hong Kong since June, ranging from small rallies of a few hundred people to large-scale marches with estimates of up to 2 million attendees.

Sparked by a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed fugitives to be extradited to mainland China, the movement has expanded to include more demands, including an investigation into allegations of police brutality and greater democratic rights in the semi-autonomous territory.

More than 6,000 people have been arrested since the protests started, with over 2,600 hospitalized. Police have fired 16,000 rounds of tear gas during the unrest, while violent protesters have thrown bricks, fire bombs and even an arrow at officers.

Wednesday’s rally was organized by Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the group behind some of the movement’s biggest marches. Spokesman Jimmy Sham earlier said he hoped it would be peaceful.

In November, protesters turned some university campuses into fortresses, stockpiling them with weapons and food. Since then, there’s been a lull in large and violent protests, although demonstrations have continued.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, hundreds of black-clad protesters – many wearing reindeer antlers – occupied malls and other shopping areas.

On New Year’s Eve, protesters gathered around Hong Kong, resulting in clashes with police.

Although protesters have been demonstrating for almost seven months, marchers on Wednesday emphasized the need to continue.

“Our children are out there protesting, we worry every time that they will be arrested but we fully support them,” said a 62-year-old man, who asked not to be named out of privacy concerns. “Hong Kong people need to persist.”

CNN’s Sheena McKenzie, Isaac Yee and Anna Kam contributed to this report