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Pepper spray and scuffles in Hong Kong as China's birthday celebrations begin

Pepper spray and scuffles in Hong Kong as China's birthday celebrations begin

Hong Kong police have been stopping and searching young people all morning AFP/Nicolas ASFOURI

HONG KONG: Scuffles broke out in the morning on Tuesday (Oct 1) as Hong Kong went into lockdown on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Authorities in the city that has been wracked by nearly four months of often violent anti-government protests hoped to ensure the protests do not overshadow Chinese President Xi Jinping's commemorations on national day in Beijing.

There were small pockets of protests on Tuesday morning.

A group of lawmakers were assaulted by Beijing supporters as they carried a symbolic coffin through the district of Wanchai.

Police quickly intervened to break up the scuffle, briefly using pepper spray.

Police use pepper spray to break up a scuffle between Beijing supporters and lawmakers in Hong Kong. (Screengrab: Reuters)

On the opposite side of the harbour at Tsim Sha Tsui, small pockets of protesters gathered to sing "Glory to Hong Kong", an anonymously-penned anthem that has been embraced by the movement.

In the district of North Point - a bastion of pro-Beijing sentiment - patriotic Chinese songs were playing over loud speakers.

Protesters have pledged to seize on the holiday to propel their calls for greater democracy onto the international stage, hijacking an occasion Beijing sees as an opportunity to showcase China's economic progress to the world.

Rail operator MTR closed some flash-point metro stations, while several large shopping malls announced they would close, hoping to avoid damage in any clash.

Authorities ramped up security checks ahead of the anniversary, conducting stop and search in the streets and on public transport.

The government of embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has already cancelled the annual Oct 1 fireworks display over the city's iconic Victoria Harbour, citing public safety concerns.

READ: China readies for anniversary, Hong Kong for protest

READ: In divided Hong Kong, pro-China groups hold muted anniversary celebrations

Sunday witnessed some of the most sustained clashes in weeks between police and hardcore protesters.

Activists have called for people to hit the streets for a "Day of Grief" - although police banned a proposed rally through the city.

In a vivid illustration of the political insecurity now coursing through Hong Kong, city officials watched a morning harbourside flag-raising ceremony from the safety of the nearby convention centre.

Since Hong Kong's 1997 handover to China by Britain, officials had always attended the ceremony outside, even during torrential downpours.

But popular protests that erupted in June have made it increasingly risky for officials to appear in public.

A flag-raising ceremony on Jul 1 - the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover - was also watched from indoors as protesters flooded the streets and later laid siege to the city's legislature.

On Tuesday morning officials sang the national anthem as they watched the flags of China and Hong Kong being raised in a nearby public square on large television screens.

Officials from Hong Kong and the mainland watched a flag-raising ceremony from inside a convention centre AFP/Mohd RASFAN

Two helicopters made a fly-by as coastguard vessels sprayed multiple hoses in the harbour.

Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam, who has historically low approval ratings, was invited to the festivities in Beijing.

Her de facto deputy, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, delivered an address in which he praised China's development over the last 70 years.

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But he said officials recognised they needed "new thinking to try to address deep-rooted problems" in Hong Kong.

On Monday, police warned Hong Kongers against attending banned protest rallies, adding that intelligence suggested radical protesters were planning "very dangerous" tactics.

But activists decried the police's decision to ban a march by the Civil Human Rights Front, a group that advocates non-violence.

"Hong Kong is now having less and less freedom and becoming more and more like Beijing," CHRF spokeswoman Bonnie Leung told reporters.

READ: China has doubled troop levels in Hong Kong, envoys estimate

READ: Singapore leaders congratulate China on 70th anniversary of founding

Millions have hit the streets this summer and hardcore activists have repeatedly clashed with police, in the biggest challenge to China's rule since the city's handover.

The protests were initially sparked by a now scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the mainland but have since snowballed into a much wider movement of popular anger against city leaders and Beijing.

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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Source: AFP/jt


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