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Hong Kong on the edge as pro-democracy protests intensify; 12-year-old among 36 arrested

By Vishal S

Hong Kong, Aug 25: After around a week of relative calm, the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong not just intensified this weekend, but also took a violent turn with a police officer reportedly having to fire a warning shot in the air. As on Monday morning, a total of 36 persons have been arrested among which one is said to be as young as 12-years-old.

Reports quoted Hong Kong Police as saying that 29 men and seven women have been arrested. The protests started in June against a bill which would have allowed extradition to China from Hong Kong. What started as agitation against the bill, has now taken shape of a massive pro-democracy movement with thousands pouring on to streets in defiance.

Protesters use bamboo sticks as they face riot police during a protest in Hong Kong on Sunday (PTI photo Aug. 25, 2019)

For the first time since the mass protests started, the Hong Kong police had to fire water cannons to control the crowd. As the forces hurled tear gas shells, the protestors are said to have thrown bricks in response. Some reports also claim that a petrol bomb was hurled by an unknown protestor. At one point in time, at least 6-7 police officials drew out even their side arms. Six officers drew their pistols and one officer fired a warning shot into the air, a Reuters report quoted police as saying in a statement.

[Hong Kong police fires water cannon at protesters for first time during clashes]

Saturday's clashes saw police baton-charge protesters and fired tear gas, while demonstrators threw rocks and bottles later into the night in a working-class neighbourhood.

How did the Hong Kong protests begin?

Initially, the protest was against a bill which would have allowed extradition to China from Hong Kong. Hong Kong has its own legal system and enjoys a considerable amount of autonomy compared to mainland China. China is communist and the way of life in Hong Kong is capitalist as the island was under British rule for a long time.

What started as an agitation against a bill, has now taken shape of a pro-democracy movement. People can be seen carrying placards with messages demanding more democratic freedom, fair elections and also some 'anti-China' slogans. Many in Hong Kong feel that China is slowly curbing the island city's autonomy and imposing its laws. The protests intensified after a Chinese official earlier in August said "terrorism" was emerging in the city.

[Google says YouTube campaign targeted Hong Kong protests]

The proposed extradition bill has now been suspended, but the protests have evolved into mass political unrest. Hong Kong was under British rule for a long time and is significantly different from other Chinese cities. Hong Kong was handed over to China by the British in 1997 after 99 year lease ended.

Hong Kong enjoys a special status under the principle "one country, two systems" which China and Britain agreed to just a few years before the island city came under Beijing's rule. Other than foreign and defence affairs, Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy. Hong Kong has its own legal system and borders, and rights. People of Hong Kong want more autonomy to choose their leader or the chief executive. Hong Kong has a Legislative Council but all the 70 members of this lawmaking body are not elected by the people.

The chief executive is elected by a 1,200-member election committee. People of Hong Kong are demanding democracy as most seats of the Legislative Council that are not directly elected allegedly have pro-China lawmakers.

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