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HK cops detain over 300 protesters, nine arrests involve new law

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Nine arrests involve new national security law that critics fear is aimed at ending pro-democracy opposition

HONG KONG: Police in Hong Kongfired water cannon and tear gas and arrested more than 300 people yesterday as protesters took to the streets in defiance of sweeping security legislation introduced by China that critics say is aimed at snuffing out dissent.

Beijing unveiled the details of the much-anticipated law late on Tuesday after weeks of uncertainty, pushing the financial hub on to a more authoritarian path.

As thousands of protesters gathered downtown for an annual rally marking the anniversary of the former British colony's handover to China in 1997, riot police used pepper spray and fired pellets as they made arrests after crowds spilled into the streets chanting "resist till the end" and "Hong Kong independence".

"I'm scared of going to jail, but for justice, I have to come out today, I have to stand up," said one 35-year-old who gave his name as Seth.

Police said they had made more than 300 arrests for illegal assembly and other offences, with nine involving suspected violations of the new law.

The law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, will see mainland security agencies in Hong Kong for the first time and allow for extradition to the mainland for trial.

China's Parliament adopted the law in response to protests last year triggered by fears that Beijing was stifling the city's freedoms, guaranteed by a "one country, two systems" formula agreed when it returned to Chinese rule.

Police cited the law in confronting protesters.

"You are displaying flags or banners/chanting slogans/or conducting yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion, which may constitute offences under the... national security law," police said in a message displayed on a purple banner.

The authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few "troublemakers" and will not affect rights and freedoms, nor investor interests.

But critics fear it is aimed at ending the pro-democracy opposition and will crush the freedoms that are seen as key to Hong Kong's success as a financial centre.

The US and its Asian and Western allies have criticised the legislation.

Britain said it would stand by its word and offer all those in Hong Kong with British National Overseas status a "bespoke" immigration route.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described yesterday's protests as heartbreaking and reprimanded HSBC and other banks for supporting the new law, saying the rights of Hong Kong should not be sacrificed for bankers' bonuses.

Speaking at a flag-raising ceremony to mark the handover, the city's Beijing-backed leader, Mrs Carrie Lam, said the law was the most important development since 1997.

"It is also an inevitable and prompt decision to restore stability," Mrs Lam said.

Some pro-democracy activists called for the campaign to carry on from abroad.

"I saw this morning there are celebrations for Hong Kong's handover, but to me it is a funeral, a funeral for 'one country two systems'," said pro-democracy lawmaker Kwok Ka Ki. - REUTERS

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