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Riot police break up Hong Kong rally for China's Uighurs

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Protesters at a rally in Hong Kong on Sunday to show support for the Uighur minority in China.

Hong Kong

HONG Kong riot police broke up a solidarity rally for China's Uighurs on Sunday - with one officer drawing a pistol - as the city's pro-democracy movement likened their plight to that of the oppressed Muslim minority.

The initially peaceful rally descended into chaos when a small group of protesters removed a Chinese flag from a nearby government building and tried to burn it, an AFP reporter on the scene said.

Organisers stopped the flag being burned but riot police then swooped in with pepper spray, sparking anger from the crowd who threw water bottles.

One officer drew his side-arm and pointed it at the crowd but did not fire. Multiple protesters were seen being detained.

China has faced international condemnation for rounding up an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in internment camps in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

The emergence of a huge surveillance and prison system that now blankets much of Xinjiang has been watched closely in Hong Kong which has been convulsed by six months of huge and sometimes violent protests against Beijing's rule.

Pro-Uighur chants and flags have become commonplace in Hong Kong's marches but Sunday's rally was the first to be specifically dedicated to Uighurs.

Around 1,000 people gathered in a square close to the city's harbourfront listening to speeches warning that the Chinese Communist Party's crackdown in Xinjiang could one day be replicated in Hong Kong.

Many of those attending were waving the flag of "East Turkestan", the term many Uighur separatists use for Xinjiang, which has a white crescent moon on a blue background.

Others wore blue face masks displaying the East Turkestan flag. Flags for Tibet - another restless region of China that has long been under a security lock down - were also flown as well as Taiwan flags.

Many at Sunday's rally said they felt a mainland style government is around the corner.

"The Chinese government are control freaks, they can't stand any opinions they disagree with," Katherine, a protester in her late twenties and a civil servant, told AFP before police moved in.

"In Xinjiang they are doing what they are doing because they have the power to do so. When they take over Hong Kong they will do the same," she added. AFP