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Thousands protest in Hong Kong over China security law proposal

The scenes today were the most intense in months.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

POLICE FIRED TEAR gas and water cannon at thousands of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters who gathered today against a controversial security law proposed by China, in the most intense clashes for months.

As the demonstrators and police were facing off in the semi-autonomous financial hub, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi insisted in Beijing that the proposed law must be imposed “without the slightest delay”.

The planned legislation — expected to ban treason, subversion and sedition — comes after Hong Kong was shaken last year by months of massive, often-violent protests, and repeated warnings from Beijing that it would not tolerate dissent.

With campaigners warning the proposal could spell the end of the city’s treasured freedoms, thousands gathered and chanted slogans in the busy Causeway Bay and Wan Chai districts, while some masked protesters set up makeshift barricades to stop police vehicles.

“People may be criminalised only for words they say or publish opposing the government,” 25-year-old protester Vincent told AFP.

“I think Hong Kongers are very frustrated because we didn’t expect this to come so fast and so rough. But we won’t be as naive as to believe that Beijing will simply sit back and do nothing. Things will only get worse here.”

Riot police were deployed after protesters ignored earlier warnings from authorities against unauthorised assembly and violated the city’s current coronavirus-linked law banning public gatherings of more than eight people.

As the number of protesters swelled, police fired tear gas and pepper spray to try and disperse the crowd, and later deployed water cannon and armoured vehicles against pockets of protesters.

At least 120 people were arrested, police said, as attempts to clear the roads in the area continued into the evening. 

The Hong Kong government condemned the “extremely violent and illegal acts” of the protesters and said they reinforced “the need and urgency of the legislation on national security”.

It also accused protesters of injuring at least four police officers.

The scenes today were the most intense in months.

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The Hong Kong pro-democracy movement had fizzled at the beginning of 2020 as arrests mounted and, later, large gatherings were banned to stop the coronavirus.

More than 8,300 people have been arrested since the protests erupted last year. 

Hong Kong residents enjoy rights — including freedom of speech — unseen on the Chinese mainland, as well as its own legal system and trade status.

Fears had been growing for years that Beijing was chipping away at those freedoms and tightening its control on the city, and campaigners have described the new proposal as the most brazen move yet.

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