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Hong Kong police fire tear gas at protesters in residential area

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Demonstrators gather at Chater Garden during a protest in the Central district of Hong Kong on Sunday, July 28, 2019.

[HONG KONG] Hong Kong demonstrators and police clashed for a second straight day as the city's China-backed government struggles to quell growing discontent and amid violent clashes that have marred the historic movement in recent weeks.

Police fired volleys of tear gas at hundreds of black-shirted protesters Sunday in Sai Ying Pun, a residential and business area where the Chinese government's liaison office in Hong Kong is located. Protesters vandalized the liaison building last week, drawing stern warnings from Beijing and sparking fears that China's military would be called in to restore order.

A number of stores in the neighbourhood were closed ahead of the tense standoff, as riot police carrying shields marched in rows down a main street. Police said they used tear gas to disperse protesters who hurled bricks at officers, in a situation that was "drastically deteriorating."

Thousands of people initially gathered at centrally-located Chater Garden and marched without a definite plan toward the Admiralty, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay areas that were ground zero for previous mass rallies. They had chanted slogans including "liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time," "shame on police who beat people" and "return us the right to demonstrate."

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The sprawling Sogo department store in Causeway Bay, owned by Lifestyle International Holdings, was closed though the situation in that area remained peaceful.

Sunday's march came the day after thousands of protesters descended on the suburb of Yuen Long near the Chinese border to condemn a mob attack against train commuters and demonstrators that shocked the city last weekend. A Friday sit-in at Hong Kong's international airport also drew thousands and underscored the economic risk of continued unrest.

Police on Saturday used batons, tear gas and pepper spray on people throwing stones and wielding metal rods. Thirteen people were arrested for their involvement in Yuen Long, Yolanda Yu, a senior superintendent at the Police Public Relations Branch, told reporters on Sunday. That march's organiser, Max Chung, had been taken into custody, she said.

Police early Sunday said the protesters disregarded the personal safety of residents and the public. The demonstrators used metal poles and self-made shields to attack officers and charge the cordon line - they even removed fences from roads to form road blocks, according to a police statement.

The former British colony's government is reeling from its biggest political crisis since its return to Chinese rule in 1997. The movement to oppose a bill allowing extraditions to the mainland has expanded to include calls for genuine universal suffrage, an inquiry into excessive force by police and demands for Chief Executive Carrie Lam's resignation.

The unrest has put pressure on Chinese President Xi Jinping to find a solution. Beijing has so far backed Mrs Lam's government, in part to avoid setting a precedent in which street protests lead to political change. His government has also accused the US of supporting the demonstrations, a charge the Trump administration has denied.

"Even Carrie Lam's resignation and universal suffrage aren't going to resolve the crisis in Hong Kong. The truth is China is having a tighter and tighter grip on Hong Kong and our rights," said Oscar Cheung, an office worker in his twenties, as he stood in Chater Garden Sunday in a black shirt and sunglasses.

With the unrest showing no signs of ending, the city's reputation among investors as a stable environment for business has taken a hit. Local retailers are bracing for poor sales figures as demonstrations keep tourists out of shops and ordinary residents seek to avoid major malls that have been targeted.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan said in a blog post Sunday that many local retail and catering businesses had experienced a "sharp decline" in business, warning that the longer the historic protests go on, the more pressure they will pile on small and medium-sized enterprises.

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