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Hong Kong protesters urge G20 to raise plight with China

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Thousands of people demonstrate peacefully outside City Hall in Hong Kong, June 26, 2019. Hong Kong protestersalso marched to major consulates on Wednesday as they called on G20 nations to confront fellow member China at an upcoming summit in Japan over sliding freedoms in the financial hub.

[HONG KONG] Hong Kong protesters marched to major consulates on Wednesday as they called on G20 nations to confront fellow member China at an upcoming summit in Japan over sliding freedoms in the financial hub.

The semi-autonomous city has been shaken by huge demonstrations this month with protesters demanding the withdrawal of a bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.

The massive rallies are the latest manifestation of growing fears that China is stamping down on the city's unique freedoms and culture.

China has said it will not allow discussion of the protests in Hong Kong at the G20 summit in Osaka later this week - although US President Donald Trump has said he plans to raise the issue during a planned meeting with President Xi Jinping.

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"China will never agree to the G20 discussing the Hong Kong issue, this is completely China's internal affairs," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Wednesday.

Nonetheless Hong Kong protesters have seized on the impending gathering of the world leaders to raise awareness of their movement and pile pressure on both Mr Xi and the city's pro-Beijing leader, Carrie Lam.

Throughout Wednesday, around 1,000 demonstrators - many holding "Please liberate Hong Kong" placards or chanting "Help Hong Kong" - shuttled between the city's G20 consulates to hand-in petitions and plead with envoys to lobby their governments back home.

Come evening a larger crowd of some 4,000 protesters gathered in a park in the commercial district.

One protester, who gave his surname as Lau, said the international community had a right to talk about Hong Kong's future because of its role as a major global trading hub.

"We need to keep our uniqueness so that we can serve the international economy," he told AFP.

Protesters have also launched a crowdfunding campaign to take out adverts in major financial newspapers, hoping they may come across G20 leaders' desks during the summit.

Organisers said they were overwhelmed by the response with some 20,000 people donating HK$5.48 million (S$950,599) by the time the crowdfunding was halted on Tuesday.

Although Hong Kong was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, it is still administered separately under an arrangement known as "one country, two systems".

The city enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland but many residents have been alarmed in recent years by what they feel is a tighter grip by Beijing.

Hong Kong's leaders are not elected and calls for universal suffrage have fallen on deaf ears.

Protesters are planning a series of smaller demonstrations in the run-up to Friday and Saturday's G20 meetings as well as a mass annual democracy rally on July 1 where a large turnout is expected.

Ms Lam has postponed the extradition bill because of the huge backlash but has resisted protester demands to shelve it permanently.

She has also refused calls to drop charges against arrested demonstrators and hold an independent inquiry into the police's use of tear gas and rubber bullets earlier in the month.

Ms Lam, who is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee, has stayed out of the public eye for more than a week.

A regular poll published by Hong Kong University released on Tuesday showed her approval ratings were now at a record low for any chief executive since the handover to China.

On Tuesday Britain urged Hong Kong to conduct an independent investigation into clashes between police and protesters - and suspended export licences for crowd control equipment.

China's Mr Geng hit out at that announcement on Wednesday.

"The British side has frequently interfered and made irresponsible remarks about Hong Kong's affairs," he said.

AFP