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China confirms detention of HK worker

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Protesters gather at subway station, others at British consulate where staff member went missing in China

HONG KONG Hundreds of protesters, many masked, some with helmets, gathered at the suburban Yuen Long mass-transit rail station yesterday, one of a series of running demonstrations over 11 weeks that have sometimes turned violent, including the storming of the legislature and havoc at the airport.

Another group rallied outside the British consulate after its employee went missing earlier this month in Shenzhen, China.

As of press time, there were no reports of violence.

The missing man, identified as Mr Simon Cheng by his family, travelled to Shenzhen, a city on the China-Hong Kong border, for a one-day business meeting on Aug 8.

That night, he returned via high-speed train and sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to go through customs.

"We lost contact with him then," the family said in a Facebook post.

Yesterday, Beijing confirmed Mr Cheng was being held in China. His friends staged a protest outside the British consulate in Hong Kong yesterday to pressure the British government to "save Simon".

"Hong Kong people are still fighting to oppose the extradition Bill, yet something like this happened without such a Bill," organiser Max Chung told AFP.

"If the Beijing government doesn't explain to the public why this happened, then it is playing with fire. This is a warning to Hong Kongers and to whoever wants to come to Hong Kong."

Mr Chung told the rally that "to our best understanding", his detained friend had not been involved with the ongoing protests. He also added: "Simon is a good guy and smart guy... I don't think he would do anything stupid."

The incident comes as relations between Britain and China have become strained over what Beijing calls London's "interference" in pro-democracy protests that have wracked Hong Kong for three months.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing the detained man had been "placed in administrative detention for 15 days as punishment" by Shenzhen police for breaking a public security law.

'INTERNAL MATTER'

Mr Geng said the employee was from Hong Kong and therefore the issue was an internal matter.

"Let me clarify, this employee is a Hong Kong citizen, he is not a UK citizen, which is also saying he is a Chinese person," Mr Geng said.

He said the employee had violated the Public Security Administration Punishments Law - a law with broad scope aimed at "maintaining public order in society" and "safeguarding public security", as well as making sure police and security forces act within the law.

The ongoing protests have raised fears of a Chinese crackdown in some form.

The unrest in Hong Kong was initially triggered by a controversial law that would allow extradition to China but has since broadened into a call for wider democratic reforms.

Beijing has repeatedly warned Britain - the former colonial ruler of Hong Kong - against any "interference" in the protests, which erupted 11 weeks ago and have seen millions of people hit the streets calling for democratic reforms.

"Recently the UK has made many erroneous remarks about Hong Kong," Mr Geng said at the press briefing yesterday.

"We once again urge the British side to stop gesticulating and fanning flames on the Hong Kong issue," he said. - AFP, REUTERS

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