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Tear gas and rubber bullets as Hong Kong demos grow

Umbrella movement: Crowds shelter from the rain in the largest protest since major sit-ins in 2014 PICTURE: AFP

HONG Kong police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at crowds protesting against a proposed bill that would allow extradition of criminal suspects to China.

Officers also used pepper spray and water hoses after the mainly young demonstrators blocked roads and and scuffled with police outside government buildings.

Violence escalated after protesters managed to delay a debate over the bill, which has become a lightning rod for concerns over Chinese control and erosion of civil liberties.

Fightback: An angry young protester wears a mask PICTURE: AP

Many in the crowds wore face masks, mindful of Beijing’s growing use of facial recognition technology to identify those it considers unreliable, as well as to guard against tear gas.

Earlier, a government statement said the planned 11am legislative session would be held at ‘a later time’, which was unspecified.

The protests, the largest since the 2014 Umbrella Movement sit-ins, are a challenge to China’s ruling Communist Party and president Xi Jinping, who has said he would not tolerate Hong Kong being used as a base to challenge the party’s authority. But they are also giving vent to young people who feel alienated by a political process dominated by the economic elite.

At a news conference, police commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung warned the ‘riot’ could lead to jail terms. But one protester said: ‘We have to stand up for our rights or they will be taken away.’