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H.K. protesters scuffle with police; govt offices shut down after day of violence

Reuters

Protesters hold signs following a day of violence over an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, in Hong Kong on Thursday.

Reuters HONG KONG (Reuters) — Scuffles broke out between protesters and police in Hong Kong on Thursday as hundreds of people remained on the streets to protest a planned extradition law with mainland China, a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators.

Protester numbers around the city’s legislature, the epicenter of the violence, swelled during Thursday to thousands at one stage, with some protesters rushing to stop police from removing supplies of face masks and food.

Uniformed police with helmets and shields blocked overhead walkways in Hong Kong’s financial district, while a long row of police vans was parked nearby.

Plainclothes police officers checked commuters’ identity papers as a massive cleanup was underway, clearing streets of debris, like broken umbrellas used by protesters to protect themselves and broken barricades, left from the violent clashes.

Protesters, some still wearing face masks and goggles in case police again use tear gas, were joined by schoolchildren during the day, but their numbers eased off later to a few hundred, after a Legislative Council meeting to discuss the extradition bill was postponed.

“We will be back when, and if, it comes back for discussion again,” said protester Stephen Chan, a 20-year-old university student. “We just want to preserve our energy now.”

The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or traveling through the city, has sparked concerns it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong’s international financial status.

The legislature remained closed, with the council issuing a notice that the meeting to discuss the bill would not be held on Thursday.

Authorities have shut government offices in the financial district for the rest of the week after some of the worst violence in Hong Kong since Britain handed it back to Chinese rule in 1997.

On Wednesday, police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray in a series of skirmishes to clear demonstrators from the legislature, with officials saying 72 people had been admitted to a hospital by 10 p.m.

It was the third night of violence since a protest on Sunday drew what organizers said was more than a million people in the biggest street demonstration since the 1997 handover.

Several thousand demonstrators stayed until the early hours of morning near the legislature in the Admiralty district, while thousands more retreated to the Central business district, overlooked by the towers of some of Asia’s biggest firms and hotel chains, including HSBC and AIA.

Most roads around the business district were opening for traffic, but Pacific Place, a prime shopping mall next to the legislature, stayed shut.

Banks, including Standard Chartered, Bank of China and DBS, said they had suspended branch services in the area.

Banks in the Central district emphasized it was “business as usual” but many offered staff the option of working from home.Speech

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