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Hong Kong hit by fresh protest after China security proposal
POLICE fired tear gas and water cannon at thousands of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters who gathered on Sunday against a controversial security law proposed by China, in the most intense clashes for months.
As the demonstrators and police were facing off in the semi-autonomous financial hub, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi insisted in Beijing that the proposed law must be imposed "without the slightest delay".
The planned legislation - expected to ban treason, subversion and sedition - comes after Hong Kong was shaken last year by months of massive, often-violent protests, and repeated warnings from Beijing that it would not tolerate dissent.
Fearing the proposed law will spell the end of the city's treasured freedoms, campaigners called for supporters to rally and hundreds responded, gathering in the busy Causeway Bay and Wan Chai districts, chanting slogans against the government as riot police warned them against the assembly.
Riot police were deployed after earlier warnings from authorities against unauthorised assembly and the city's current coronavirus-linked law banning public gatherings of more than eight people.
As the number of protesters swelled, police fired tear gas and pepper spray to try and disperse the crowd, and later deployed water cannon and armoured vehicles against pockets of protesters. At least 120 people were arrested, police said, as attempts to clear the roads in the area continued into the evening.
Hong Kong residents enjoy rights - including freedom of speech - unseen on the mainland as part of the agreement that saw the British colony handed back to China in 1997, and the city has its own legal system and trade status.
Fears had been growing for years that Beijing was chipping away at those freedoms and tightening its control on the city, and campaigners have described the new proposal as the most brazen move yet.
Of particular concern is a provision allowing Chinese security agents to operate in Hong Kong, and that they could launch a crackdown against those dissenting against the mainland's Communist rulers.
Hong Kong's unpopular pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam has defended the new proposal, saying it was necessary to protect national security and punish "violent political elements".
But there is deep mistrust of China's opaque legal system in Hong Kong and of how Beijing might use such regulations in the city - the massive protests last year were sparked by a now-scrapped bill that would have allowed extraditions to the mainland.
The new proposal could prove even more wide-ranging than that plan, and several Western governments have voiced alarm.
China's legislature is expected to rubber-stamp the draft resolution on Thursday, the last day of the annual parliamentary gathering, before the details are fleshed out at another meeting at a later date.
Officials have said the law would then be implemented locally. AFP