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Protesters scuffle with HK cops, govt offices shut

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Government offices in financial district shut for rest of the week

HONG KONG Scuffles broke out between demonstrators and police in Hong Kong yesterday as hundreds of people persevered with a protest against an extradition law with mainland China, a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up big crowds.

Protests around the city's legislature on Wednesday forced the postponement of debate on the extradition Bill, which many people in Hong Kong fear will undermine freedoms and confidence in the commercial hub.

Hong Kong's China-backed chief executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence and urged a swift restoration of order but has vowed to press ahead with the legislation despite the reservations about it, including within the business community.

The number of protesters milling about outside the legislature in the financial district fell overnight but rose again through the day on yesterday to about 1,000 at one stage.

They expect the legislature, which has a majority of pro-Beijing members, will try to hold the debate at some stage, though it issued a notice saying there would be no session yesterday.

"We will be back when, and if, it comes back for discussion again," said protester Stephen Chan, a 20-year old university student.

Earlier, some protesters tried to stop police from removing supplies of face masks and food and scuffles broke out. Police with helmets and shields blocked overhead walkways and plainclothes officers checked commuters' identity cards.

A cleanup got under way to clear debrisafter the previous day's clashes, when police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray at protesters.

Officials said 72 people were admitted to hospital.

Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo He said what began as a peaceful gathering on Wednesday had degenerated into a riot.

Police arrested 11 people, while 22 officers were injured and police had fired about 150 tear gas canisters, he said.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China "strongly condemns the violent behaviour and we support the (Hong Kong) government in dealing with it according to law".

The authorities shut government offices in the financial district for the rest of the week.

Most roads in the business district were open yesterday but some shops and offices were closed and banks, including Standard Chartered Bank, Bank of China and DBS Bank, suspended branch services in the area.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organised Sunday's march that saw an estimated one million people taking part, said it was planning another demonstration for the coming Sunday.

Democratic city legislators condemned Ms Lam.

"We are not a haven for criminals, but we have become a haven of violent police. Firing at our children? None of the former chief executives dared to do that," said legislator Fernando Cheung. "But 'mother Carrie Lam' did it. What kind of mother is she?"- REUTERS