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Hong Kong police fire tear gas, rubber bullets at protesters

Police in Hong Kong fired tear gas and rubber bullets repeatedly Sunday to drive back protesters blocking streets with road signs and umbrellas in another night of pitched battles in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

China's top Hong Kong policy office to address escalating protests on Monday

Pro-democracy protesters use umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas Sunday. Hong Kong has been wracked by protests for seven weeks. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Police in Hong Kong fired tear gas and rubber bullets repeatedly Sunday to drive back protesters blocking streets with road signs and umbrellas in another night of pitched battles in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

It was the second night in a row that tear gas was used in escalating pro-democracy protests. The demonstrations began early last month to voice opposition to an extradition bill that has since been suspended, but the movement has grown to encompass a broader push for full democracy.

The clashes will be addressed for the first time by China's top Hong Kong policy office press conference in Beijing on Monday, according to the South China Morning Post.

A notice issued by the central government says the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council, China's cabinet, will give "its stance and views on Hong Kong's current situation."

The press briefing will be the first held by the office on Hong Kong since Britain handed Hong Kong over to China more than 20 years ago, according to the Post.

Protesters occupied two areas at opposite ends of central Hong Kong on Sunday following a mid-afternoon rally against police use of tear gas at a demonstration the previous weekend.

On the western end of Hong Kong Island, one group blocked areas near the Chinese government's liaison office and began to move forward as night fell. Police issued warnings, and protesters threw eggs at them. Officers fired tear gas to halt the advance.

Repeated standoffs

Police then embarked on an hours-long effort to push the protesters eastward and get them to disperse.

In repeated standoffs, spontaneous but highly organized protesters set up behind scaffolding that they built across a street. Police lined up behind clear shields about 30 metres down the road. Dozens of journalists in bright yellow vests stood in between the two on the sidelines.

Riot police advance towards protesters on Sunday. (Laurel Chor/Getty Images)

The police would advance gradually, firing bursts of tear gas. Protesters in hard hats scurried about, rearranging makeshift barriers of pilfered road signs and other items. By the time the police reached the scaffolding, they had backed off about six metres.

Another team of officers, more mobile with smaller shields, then swept in to clear the area. Some protesters were detained, Hong Kong media reported.

7 weeks of protests

Hong Kong has been wracked by protests for seven weeks, as opposition to the extradition bill has morphed into demands for the resignation of the city's leader and an investigation into whether police have used excessive force in quelling the protests.

Underlying the movement is a broader push for full democracy in the territory. The city's leader is chosen by a committee dominated by a pro-Beijing establishment, rather than by direct elections.

Earlier Sunday, protesters rallied at a park in Hong Kong's financial district before marching out in several directions despite not winning police approval for a public procession. It was the second straight day that protesters took to the streets without official permission.

A sea of black-shirted protesters, some with bright yellow helmets and masks but many with just backpacks, streamed out of Chater Garden park. Chanting "Add oil," a phrase that roughly means "Keep up the fight," a huge crowd marched east down a wide thoroughfare.

Behind barricades

They stopped near the Sogo department store and set up barricades to block off the area and defend it against police.

Another group headed west toward mainland China's liaison office. Protesters egged the office last weekend and splattered black ink on the national emblem, eliciting an angry reaction from the Chinese government.

A protester throws tear gas back at police officers on Saturday. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

Some stopped about two blocks short of the office and used orange and white construction barricades to build a wall spanning a major road. They massed behind the barriers as night fell, with umbrellas pointed forward to shield their identities and ward off any police move to clear them.

Some nearby stores closed early as police in riot gear gathered nearby ahead of the all but inevitable clearing operation.

Dozens injured

The rally in Chater Garden was called to protest the police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other force to break up a protest the previous Sunday.

"We need to have a protest to show that we are strongly against this kind of brutality and we need them to respond to our demands," said rally organizer Ventus Lau.

Police had denied Lau's request to march west to the Sheung Wan district, where the tear gas was used the previous weekend, citing escalating violence in clashes with protesters that have broken out after past marches and rallies.

"The police must prevent aggressive protesters from exploiting a peaceful procession to cause troubles and violent clashes," said Supt. Louis Lau of the police public relations branch.

On Saturday, clashes between protesters and police led to 11 arrests and left at least two dozen injured in an outlying district toward the border with mainland China.

Rubber bullets

The police had also denied permission for that march in Yuen Long, where a mob apparently targeting demonstrators had beaten people brutally in a train station the previous weekend.

Protesters face off with riot police at the entrance to a village at Yuen Long district in Hong Kong on Saturday. (The Associated Press)

Protesters and police faced off in the streets well into the night, as they've done repeatedly during the summer's pro-democracy protests.

Police said protesters removed fences from roads to make their own roadblocks and charged police lines with metal poles.

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