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HK cops fire water cannon, rubber bullets, tear gas at protesters

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Rallies turn violent, leader Carrie Lam leaves city for China's National Day

HONG KONG: Police in Hong Kong fired water cannon, rubber bullets and round after round of tear gas at petrol-bomb and brick-throwing protesters yesterday in some of the most widespread violence in more than three months of anti-government unrest.

Running battles in the Causeway Bay shopping district, Wan Chai bar area and the Admiralty district of central government offices followed a night of showdowns with police in the city after a peaceful pro-democracy rally turned ugly.

More protests are planned in the run-up to China's Oct 1 National Day, marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic.

Police also fired tear gas from the roof of the Legislative Council building, which activists trashed and daubed with graffiti weeks ago.

Protesters, many of them wearing their trademark black with face masks, took cover from the tear gas behind umbrellas and held their ground yesterday, some throwing tear gas canisters back at police as a helicopter flew overhead.

They built barricades with trolleys and trash cans and other debris. One threw a petrol bomb at police in the Wan Chai metro station.

At least one petrol bomb landed in the grounds of central government offices where several windows were smashed.

Police, who traditionally raise placards warning of retaliation before firing tear gas or firing water cannon, made several arrests, grappling people to the tarmac. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.

The water cannon fired blue dye, which elsewhere in the world is used to make identification of offenders easier.

The government said the city's leader, Mrs Carrie Lam, will be out of town for China's National Day, despite her having sent out invitations for celebrations at home. Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung will be standing in for her.

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Some shops closed ahead of expected demonstrations. The MTR metro service shut stations, a move that has made it a target of violence in the past.

Protesters shouted anti-China slogans and called for their "five demands, not one less" of the government, including universal suffrage.

About 200 China supporters dressed in red T-shirts gathered on top of Victoria Peak at around midday. They sang the Chinese national anthem and chanted "I love China".

A housewife in her 40s, with a Chinese flag sticker plastered on her cheek, said the pro-democracy protesters were "thugs".

"If the government takes violent action, I don't object," she said. "We have tolerated enough. I have emotional problems because of the riots. Because it is not safe to go out."

Mrs Lam, the focus of weeks of anti-government unrest, will leave for Beijing today.

The 62-year-old, who was trapped in an indoor stadium by street protests for hours this week after an "open dialogue" with the people, will return to Hong Kong tomorrow night overland, minimising the chances of a clash at the airport, a popular target of anti-government protests. - REUTERS

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