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EU calls for all sides in Hong Kong to avoid violence

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The European Union on Monday urged restraint on all sides in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protesters have been clashing with police, stressing that "any violence is unacceptable".

[BRUSSELS] The European Union on Monday urged restraint on all sides in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protesters have been clashing with police, stressing that "any violence is unacceptable".

"It is crucial that all sides exercise restraint and engage constructively in de-escalation efforts," the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

"Actions by the law enforcement authorities must remain strictly proportionate, while fundamental freedoms, including the right of peaceful assembly of Hongkongers, must be upheld," she added.

Only confidence-building measures, including "inclusive and sincere dialogue, reconciliation and community engagement" can lead to a sustainable solution, Mogherini said in her statement.

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Peaceful protests began in Hong Kong in June against a now-shelved China extradition bill, but they have morphed into confrontational actions to defend the city's unique freedoms from perceived encroachment by Beijing.

A new phase of violence and drama began in Hong Kong last week and has led to chaos throughout the semi-autonomous Chinese city of 7.5 million people, with schools closed, train lines disrupted and major roads blocked by barricades.

Even by recent standards, the last few days have been particularly violent, with one police officer hit in the leg by an arrow and an armoured police vehicle torched.

The European Union has close relations with Hong Kong under the "one country, two systems" principle agreed by China and the territory's former colonial power Britain.

A brief appearance by Chinese soldiers on Hong Kong's streets over the weekend - supposedly to clean up debris - fuelled concerns that Beijing could intervene militarily.

China's ambassador to Britain upped the ante on Monday.

"The Hong Kong government is trying very hard to put the situation under control," Liu Xiaoming said.

"But if the situation becomes uncontrollable, the central government would certainly not sit on our hands and watch. We have enough resolve and power to end the unrest."

Ms Mogherini, in her statement, stressed that Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy from Beijing "must be preserved" in line with international commitments.

"Continued respect for fundamental rights and freedoms and the independence of the judiciary remain essential for the development of Hong Kong," she said, calling for a comprehensive inquiry into the "violence, use of force and the root causes of the protests".

AFP