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Hong Kong leader apologises after police fire water cannon at mosque

Hong Kong

HONG KONG leader Carrie Lam apologised to the city's Muslim community on Monday after police fired a water cannon at a major mosque during operations on Sunday night to quell violent pro-democracy protests in the Asian financial hub.

While the morning after clean-up was underway, Ms Lam visited the mosque in Kowloon district, her head covered by a shawl, to express her sorrow to Islamic leaders over the incident.

The Hong Kong leader was due to depart for Japan to attend Emperor Naruhito's enthronement ceremony, and a government statement released later said Ms Lam thanked Islamic leaders for repeatedly calling for calm during the political turmoil that has gripped the city in the past five months.

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During running battles in Kowloon on Sunday, police used tear gas and water cannon trucks to disperse petrol bomb-throwing protesters, spraying jets of blue dye into the crowds.

In one instance, a cannon drenched the front gate and footpath in front of the Kowloon mosque, Hong Kong's most important Islamic place of worship where a few people had gathered including journalists.

Blue stains from the dyed water remained on the road in front as worshippers gathered for prayers on Monday.

Protesters had said they would not target the mosque in Sunday's march after a leading pro-democracy leader was brutally attacked by masked men last week that the police said were "non-Chinese".

Some non-Chinese residents including those from South Asia have been recruited in the past by the city's organised criminal gangs, or triads, to attack individuals.

"South Asians have not been involved in any protesting - anti-Hong Kong or pro-Hong Kong. We're just living peacefully," said Waqar Haider, an interpreter who works with ethnic minorities.

In the statement issued by the government, Ms Lam said Hong Kong's Muslim community called the city home and had always co-existed peacefully with other communities.

Chief Imam Muhammad Arshad said Ms Lam's apology was "accepted" and that the Islamic community hoped to continue living in Hong Kong in peace.

Police said in a statement the mosque had been accidentally sprayed and that they "respect religious freedom and will strive to protect all places of worship".

"It's just a mistake. They apologised. They saw some protesters standing outside the gates. The protesters also apologised," said Mohammed Assan, 32, who worships at the mosque. "The police do their work and the protesters have a right to protest." REUTERS