Protesters assembled in Hong Kong to protest against the extradition bill (source: twitter)

Hong Kong police on Wednesday fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters, who threw plastic bottles. The protest is as against an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

Thousands of protesters had gathered outside the Chinese-ruled city’s legislature before things took an ugly turn, with some charging the police with umbrellas.

Police warned them back, saying: “We will use force.”

With the panicked crowd running amok, many tried to flee the stinging tear gas. Some shops started closing down at the nearby IFC, one of Hong Kong’s tallest buildings.

Protesters “must stop the violence”, police chief Stephen Lo said, warning residents to stay away from a “riot situation”. He confirmed police were using plastic bullets.

Protesters rallied in and around Lung Wo Road, a main east-west artery near the offices of embattled Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, as hundreds of armed riot police first warned them to halt.

“Didn’t we say at the end of the Umbrella movement we would be back?” pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said, referring to the name often used for the 2014 demonstrations, whose trademark was the yellow umbrella.

“Now we are back!” she said with supporters echoing her words, while others continued to call for Lam’s resignation.

Opposition to the bill on Sunday triggered Hong Kong’s biggest political demonstration since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal granting it special autonomy, including freedom of assembly, free press and independent judiciary.

But many accuse China of extensive meddling since, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with local elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialised in works critical of Chinese leaders.

Lam has vowed to push for the legislation despite deep concerns in the Asian financial hub, including among business leaders, that it could undermine those freedoms and investor confidence.

The government said debate on the bill that was due to take place in the city’s 70-seat Legislative Council on Wednesday would be delayed until further notice.

The legislature is currently controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.

“We won’t leave till they scrap the law,” said one young man wearing a black mask and gloves. “Carrie Lam has underestimated us. We won’t let her get away with this.”

Meanwhile, China has reiterated its support for the legislation.

The protests were within sight of the Hong Kong garrison of China’s People’s Liberation Army, whose presence in the city has been a bone of contention since the 1997 handover.

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