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HK protestors go on the march to woo Chinese visitors

Demonstrators go on the march to gain support from visitors from China; police baton charge a group in Mongkok

HONG KONG Tens of thousands of protesters marched through one of Hong Kong's most popular tourist areas yesterday, trying to gain support from Chinese visitors for the city's opposition to an extradition Bill which has caused political turmoil.

It was largely peaceful, although riot police baton charged around 300 protesters in the district of Mongkok in a bid to disperse them. Some reports claimed multiple protesters were detained by police after the fracas, their wrists bound with plastic handcuffs.

Protests against the now-suspended Bill have drawn huge swathes of people to the streets in recent weeks, posing the biggest challenge Beijing has faced to its rule in the territory since Hong Kong returned to Chinese control in 1997.

The Bill, which would allow people to be sent to China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, has triggered outrage across broad sections of Hong Kong society amid concerns that it threatens the much-cherished rule of law that underpins the city's international financial status.

Hong Kong has been governed under a "one country, two systems" formula since its return to Chinese rule, allowing freedoms not enjoyed in China, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary.

PUBLIC SPAT

China and Britain have engaged in a public spat over the Bill, but Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming told BBC TV yesterday that China was "not interested in diplomatic war with the UK" and he had full confidence in Hong Kong's ability to resolve the situation without China's intervention.

Protesters yesterday marched through the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, a popular shopping destination, to try to deliver their message directly to Chinese tourists in the hope of garnering sympathy.

The protest's organisers said 230,000 people took part, while police said there were 56,000 people at the peak of the protest.

At times they shouted slogans in Mandarin, China's official tongue, as opposed to Hong Kong's main language of Cantonese.

They also handed out fliers and sent messages by social media and Apple's phone-to-phone AirDrop system written in the simplified form of Chinese characters used in China.

The short march finished at the West Kowloon Station that connects Hong Kong to China, one of the main entry points for Chinese visitors but a sensitive spot after part of the facility came under Chinese jurisdiction last year.

The authorities took no chances.

Police put the station on lockdown, with water-filled barriers about 2m-high set up around it.

Outside the station, organisers unfurled a banner with their demands as more protesters arrived.

The demands: fully scrap the extradition Bill, remove the label of June 12 protests as a "riot", investigate allegations of police abuse, release protesters who were arrested, and for universal suffrage to be rolled out by next year.

Protesters also chanted, "there are no violent people, only a tyranny", and called for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down. - REUTERS, AFP

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