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    Wednesday, July 17, 2019-1:10:25A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Thousands of Hong Kong protesters gather, government offices shut after violent protests

HONG KONG (Reuters) — A few thousand protesters in Hong Kong on Thursday readied for potentially more clashes with police over a planned extradition law with mainland China, a day after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed demonstrators.

Some protesters around Hong Kong’s legislature, the epicenter of the violence, rushed to stop police from removing supplies of face masks and food. School children joined the steadily growing crowd, which grew from around 20 protesters early on Thursday to a few thousand by midday.

Click to enlarge
Police block a footbridge leading to the Legislative Council as a protester holds a sign in Hong Kong on Thursday.  REUTERS

Uniformed police with helmets and shields blocked overhead walkways, while a long row of police vans were parked nearby. Plain clothes police officers checked identification of commuters.

Hong Kong authorities have shut government offices in the city’s 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.

Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray in a series of skirmishes on Wednesday to clear demonstrators from the city’s legislature. The Hong Kong Hospital Authority said 72 people had been hospitalized by 10 p.m. on Wednesday.

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.

Wednesday night 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.

Overnight several thousand demonstrators remained 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.

Hong Kong’s benchmark stock exchange slid 1.5 percent down in early trade on Thursday, extending losses from Wednesday afternoon as tensions escalated.

Ken Lam, a protestor in his 20s who works in the city’s food and beverage industry, said he would remain on strike until the bill was scrapped.

“I don’t know what the plan for protesters is today, we will just go with the flow, but we think the turnout will be smaller than yesterday and it will be peaceful, after what happened yesterday,” he said.

Most roads around the central business district were opening for traffic on Thursday, but Pacific Place, a prime shopping mall next to the legislature, remained closed. Banks including Standard Chartered, Bank of China and DBS said they had suspended branch services in the area until further notice.