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Hong Kong leader condemns 'rioters' in latest clashes

HONG KONG Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said yesterday protesters who clashed with police on the weekend were rioters, a legally loaded term in the city, and she supported the police in upholding the law and seeking perpetrators.

Ms Lam made the comments at a hospital where she visited three police officers injured on Sunday in violence between police and demonstrators angry about an extradition bill.

Hong Kong has been rocked by large and sometimes violent street protests over the past month against the extradition bill, which many city residents see as a threat to their freedoms.

"We thank the police officers for maintaining social order loyally and professionally, but they have suffered in attacks from those rioters - they can be called rioters," she said.

With more protests expected, her comments risk raising tension.

Some activists have been demanding that the government avoid using the term "riot" to refer to the protests. A conviction for rioting in the financial hub can carry a 10-year prison sentence.

Tens of thousands of people attended Sunday's protest which ended in chaos in a shopping mall, with scores of protesters throwing umbrellas, hard-hats and plastic bottles at police, who fired pepper spray and hit out with batons.

Ms Lam said more than 10 policemen were injured, with six hospitalised.

The government information office said 28 people, including police, were injured.

Police Chief Stephen Lo said late on Sunday more than 40 people were arrested on charges including assaulting police and illegal assembly.

Security chief John Lee said the government was concerned at an apparent escalation of violence by activists who threw bricks and iron bars.

"We found that people who attacked the police were very organised... they are well-planned and there are plans to deliberately do damage and disrupt social stability," Mr Lee said as he visited the hospital with Ms Lam.- REUTERS

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