Hundreds of protesters in Hong Kong clashed with riot police on Monday morning, before an annual rally in the afternoon was expected to draw huge crowds.
The rally is to mark that the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, which took place on July 1, 1997.
Police tried to disperse protesters who had camped out overnight
The anniversary protests come in the wake of huge demonstrations that drew more than a million people to the streets against a bill that sought to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.
As a result, the government postponed debate on the legislation, but protest leaders still want the bill formally withdrawn and for embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign.
The July 1 anniversary has been marred by deepening dissatisfaction among many residents about what many see as increasing meddling by China on Hong Kong and the erosion of freedoms.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China under the “one country, two systems” rule. The formula allows for freedom of protest and lets the autonomous region have an independent judiciary, neither of which is accepted in China.
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Clashes with police
Monday’s pro-democracy march was due to start in the afternoon at Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island and end at government offices near the heart of the financial center.
The anniversary is considered a public holiday, so financial markets and most businesses are closed on this day.
Small groups of masked protesters, most of them young, took control of three of the cities main streets, deploying metal and plastic barriers to block the way. Clashes with riot police were reported in the Admiralty and Wanchai districts of the city.
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Lam makes public appearance
The disturbances occurred shortly before a government flag-raising ceremony to mark the 22nd anniversary of the city’s handover.
The event was officiated by Carrie Lam, who had not been seen in public in more than 10 days. She gave a speech that struck a conciliatory tone.
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“What happened in recent months has caused conflicts and disputes between the government and residents,” Lam said.
“It has made me fully understand that as a politician, I need to be aware and accurately grasp the feelings of the people,” she said.
jcg/aw (AFP, Reuters, AP)