Thousands take to the streets in Hong Kong, police use tear gas
Police in Hong Kong fired tear gas and water cannon at thousands of pro-democracy protesters who gathered Sunday against a controversial security law proposed by China, in the most intense clashes in months. Meanwhile, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi insisted in Beijing that the proposed law must be imposed "without the slightest delay".
The planned legislation is expected to ban treason, subversion and sedition, and 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 in the busy Causeway Bay and Wan Chai districts, chanting slogans, as 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 earlier warnings from authorities against unauthorised assembly and 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.
The protest followed a similar pattern to many of last year's rallies, with police firing tear gas and pepper spray, and demonstrators pushing back. Some threw objects such as umbrellas at the police.
Police said they had arrested 40 people.
The scenes on Sunday were the most intense in months. The Hong Kong pro-democracy movement had previously 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. Around 200 were detained during small rallies at malls on Mother's Day earlier this month.
Chipping away freedoms
Hong Kong residents enjoy rights, under the “One Country, Two Systems” structure, agreed upon by Beijing and London when the former British crown colony was handed over to China in 1997. Hong Kong was to retain existing rights, including freedom of speech, partial democracy and its own legal system and trade status.
Critics say Beijing is chipping away at those freedoms and tightening its control on the city, and some campaigners have described the new proposal as “the end of One Country, Two Systems.”
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