At least four protesters were taken away by the police after they scuffled with officers in Central during the New Year’s Day march on Wednesday afternoon.
The clash broke out when a group of protesters were trying to run out of a barricaded zone to block traffic on Pedder Street in Central. They were also carrying plastic bags loaded with tomatoes that they intended to throw.
The four protesters were from the same activists’ group that broke into the Central Barracks of the People's Liberation Army last week to call for policy priority to Hong Kong people.
Thousands of marchers set off from Victoria Park during the New Year’s Day rally on Wednesday afternoon to press for “genuine” universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election.
The protestors, with the first batch leaving Victoria Park around 3pm, were marching westward through the busy shopping areas in Causeway Road, Yee Wo Street and Hennessy Road to finish at Chater Garden in Central.
It took about 50 minutes for all the marchers to leave the park. Some of them had just cast their ballots in a mock referendum on the constitutional reform proposal.
Organisers said 30,000 joined the rally. Police said 6,100 people started at Victoria Park while 11,000 participants were recorded during its peak hours.
These were far lower compared with last year figures. Organisers of the 2013 rally said 130,000 took part while police put the figure at 17,000.
Video: Thousands join New Year’s Day march in Hong Kong
One participant, Mick Tang Chung-hon, brought his 13-month child and wife along to join the march. Tang, who often took part in rallies since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, said he needed to fight for universal suffrage: "It is the right to vote."
"I work in the mainland and I know even more about how they work and the politics they play," said Tang. "I don't want to see Hong Kong polluted like that."
A group known as D100 - made up of listeners of a radio show - had 1,000-odd people marching under banners saying "love justice, perform compassion".
"We need universal suffrage. As a Hong Kong resident, if we don't even have the right to vote - how are we to survive?" said retiree Tang Kam-man. "Back then it was about Tiananmen and the communists. Now it's local issues - real universal suffrage, no screening of candidates."
"We do it for the city, for the society... We do it for the next generation," said Tang.
A handful of marchers continued to play with Lufsig, a cuddly toy wolf that has become a symbol of protest since it was thrown at Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. One of them, Haywood Ho, dressed up as the Ikea toy in the march.
"I'm not saying that universal suffrage is perfect. I just think that it is better than what we have. What we have does not work," said Ho. "It's not just [Leung's] problem, it's a problem with the whole system."
Large scores of police officers were put on guard along the route and metal barricades were erected to separate marchers and pedestrians.
Outside Sogo department stores, members of Scholarism had a minor clash with police officers during a 15-minute stand-off over the group’s street booths.
This year’s march could see clashes as pro-government groups had set up their booths along the route of the pro-democracy marchers.
Outside Southorn Playground in Wan Chai, the marchers booed at members of Defend Hong Kong Campaign for chanting pro-government slogans. They asked how much its members were paid to shout slogans and asked them to “go back to the mainland”.
The government, responding to the rally, said on Wednesday afternoon that it welcomed Hong Kong people to express views and suggestions relating to the electoral reform. It also pledged it would summarise and consolidate them faithfully after the consultation period.
“[The officials in charge of the reform] will have exchanges with and listen to views from people and organisations from different sectors of the community with an open, accommodating and pragmatic mind,” it said.
“The HKSAR Government calls on all sectors of the community to adopt an accommodating, rational and pragmatic approach, as well as an inclusive attitude to express views, narrow differences and forge consensus in order to implement universal suffrage for the CE election in 2017".
— Jennifer Ngo (@jj_ngo) January 1, 2014 
— Jennifer Ngo (@jj_ngo) January 1, 2014 
Reporting team: Tony Cheung, Jennifer Ngo, Jeffie Lam, Ernest Kao, Johnny Tam, Fanny W. Y. Fung and Lai Ying-kit