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Protesters in Hong Kong decry government's 'empty rhetoric' amid warning from China

Hong Kong protesters held an inaugural "People's Press Conference" on Tuesday to condemn what they called the government's "empty rhetoric" and instances of alleged police abuse.

'Only a matter of time' until punishment for those behind violence, Beijing official says

Three masked people from Hong Kong's ongoing anti-government movement held a news conference to read out a list of demands and condemn the city's pro-Beijing leaders. (Vanessa Yung/AFP/Getty Images)

Hong Kong protesters held an inaugural "People's Press Conference" on Tuesday to condemn what they called the government's "empty rhetoric" and instances of alleged police abuse.

Three protesters who spoke to reporters said the briefing was intended to counter the regular government and police news conferences in which authorities have repeatedly decried violent acts by some pro-democracy demonstrators.

Some officers have shown "total lack of self-discipline," said an activist using the pseudonym Jerry Chan, who added that some tear gas was fired on residential buildings during clashes across several districts Monday.

Many rally participants have chosen to hide their identities because they fear official retribution.

Hong Kong has seen a string of demonstrations that began in June against proposed extradition legislation that would have allowed some criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China to stand trial. While the government has since suspended the bill, protesters have pressed on with broader calls for democratic reforms, an investigation into the police brutality allegations and for the region's leader to step down.

A Chinese official responsible for Hong Kong affairs, meanwhile, said punishment for those behind weeks of sometimes violent protests in the Chinese special administrative region is "only a matter of time."

Yang Guang, spokesperson for the Chinese Cabinet's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, speaks during a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday. (Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press)

The comments Tuesday by Yang Guang, spokesperson for the Chinese Cabinet's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, appeared to indicate Beijing will take a hard line against the protests and has no plans to open a dialogue on their demands for political reforms.

Yang singled out "brazen, violent and criminal actors" and the "meddling hands behind the scenes" as the focus of law enforcement efforts, and also called on Hong Kong citizens to turn on the protesters by refusing to accept their promotional materials and opposing disruptions to public transport.

China so far has not visibly intervened in the situation, though it has published a series of strongly worded editorials in state media condemning "violent radicals" and "foreign forces" allegedly inflaming them.

Speculation has grown that the Communist Party-led central government will deploy the military to quell demonstrators after Chinese officials pointed to an article in Hong Kong law that allows troops already stationed in the city to help with "public order maintenance" at the Hong Kong government's request.

While Hong Kong authorities have said they don't anticipate any need to bring in troops or police from China to help impose order, the Hong Kong army garrison and police in the city of Shenzhen across the border have both released videos recently of their officers training to disperse groups of people dressed in black and wearing masks and construction helmets like many of the Hong Kong protesters.

An injured man is attended to as he sits on the street after a clash during a protest in Tsuen Wan district of Hong Kong on Monday. (Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images)

General strike, clashes

A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the framework of "one country, two systems," which promised the region certain democratic freedoms not afforded to the Communist Party-ruled mainland. But some Hong Kong residents feel that Beijing has been increasingly encroaching on their freedoms.

A string of demonstrations began in June against proposed extradition legislation that would have allowed some suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. While the government has since suspended the bill, protesters have pressed on with broader calls for democratic reforms, an investigation into allegations of police brutality and for the region's leader to step down.

In the latest confrontation for the Chinese city, protesters surrounded a police station late Tuesday and early Wednesday to demand the release of a university student arrested for apparently buying laser pointers. Police used tear gas at one point to try to clear the demonstrators from the blue-collar Sham Shui Po neighbourhood.

A police officer arrests a man during a faceoff at Sham Shui Po district in Hong Kong, Wednesday. Protesters and residents gathered outside a police station to demand police release a student leader after he was arrested for buying laser pointers. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

At the protesters' news conference, they apologized for the inconveniences brought on by a general strike Monday that paralyzed regular workday operations in the city. Major roads and public transit lines were blocked, while at least 77 flights out of the airport were cancelled.

Protesters challenged law enforcement in at least eight districts Monday, responding to continuous rounds of tear gas with practiced swiftness. Some started fires outside police stations and hurled bricks and eggs at officers.

Chan said Tuesday that he hopes Hong Kong residents will carefully consider how to respond if the army does intervene.

"I believe the protesters and Hong Kong citizens will 'be water' and know what to do," he said, referring to the protesters' philosophy of taking a fluid approach to their demonstrations.

The three protesters organized their briefing through LIHKG, an online forum that has been vital to the movement. They emphasized that they cannot represent all demonstrators, but instead hope to provide a platform to respond to what they say are "rumours" spread by the government.

With files from Reuters

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