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Violent clashes as Hong Kong marks China handover anniversary

A PROTESTER holds up a placard as  thousands of protesters flood the streets during a rally in Hong Kong. (AP)

A PROTESTER holds up a placard as thousands of protesters flood the streets during a rally in Hong Kong. (AP)

HONG KONG (AFP) – Anti-government protesters laid siege to Hong Kong’s parliament yesterday as the territory marked its China handover anniversary, smashing windows, battling police armed with pepper spray, and plunging the city further into crisis.

The angry scenes ramped up tensions in the financial hub which has been rocked by three weeks of historic demonstrations against a hugely unpopular bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.

Thousands of democracy activists staged another large, peaceful march through the city yesterday afternoon, calling for the city’s pro-Beijing leader to step down and reverse what they see as years of sliding freedoms.

But that rally was overshadowed by small groups of mainly young, masked protesters who seized roads and tried to break into the legislature, sparking renewed clashes with police after two weeks of relative calm.

Under blazing summer skies, the young demonstrators made multiple attempts to smash into the building, using a metal cart as a battering ram and wielding steel poles to prize open gaps in the reinforced windows.

Riot police inside the building wore gas masks as they squirted pepper spray at protesters, who unfurled umbrellas to shield themselves.

The anti-government demonstrators eventually managed to prise open a hole in the reinforced glass at the main entrance. But police retreated behind heavy metal shutters that locked down the rest of the building.

”We know that this is breaking the law, but we have no choice,” a 24-year-old protester surnamed Cheung told AFP.

The huge rallies over the last three weeks are the latest expression of growing fears that China is stamping down on the city’s freedoms and culture with the help of the finance hub’s pro-Beijing leaders.

But the increasingly hardline tactics from some protesters have alienated some, with a large counter-rally in support of the police taking place on Sunday.

Although Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, it is still administered separately under an arrangement known as ”one country, two systems.”

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