More than 200 people were arrested during anti-government protests in Hong Kong on Sunday night, police said, as authorities seek to prevent a revival of last year's massive demonstrations, including through the application of anti-social gathering regulations intended to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Around 230 people between the ages of 12 and 65 were arrested on a range of charges, including unlawful assembly, “possessing anything with intent to destroy or damage property" and failure to produce proof of identity, police said in a statement.
Another 19 people were ticketed for having violated the Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation, which prohibits gatherings of more than eight people in any public space, the statement said. At one point, police used pepper rounds to disperse people who had surrounded officers, it said.
“Police condemn protesters for disregarding the Government’s disease prevention and control measures, and participating in or organizing prohibited group gatherings," the statement said.
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Protesters later chanted slogans and built barriers to block roads in Hong Kong's Mongkok district, and set fires on some streets, according to police.
The nighttime street action followed multiple protests at shopping malls earlier Sunday attended by hundreds, after permission for a Mother's Day protest march was denied. Protesters organized mainly through social media are demanding full democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory and an investigation into alleged police brutality in suppressing the demonstrations.
Last year's protests were sparked by a now-abandoned extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China to face trial. China's judicial system is murkier than Hong Kong's and does not guarantee the same rights to the accused.
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Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Hong Kong last year in repeated demonstrations that often ended in pitched battles, with hardcore protesters throwing gasoline bombs and police using tear gas and firing nonlethal but still powerful projectiles.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997 with a guarantee that it could retain its own legal, economic and social institutions for 50 years. Critics in the pro-democracy camp say Beijing has been steadily eroding those freedoms through tightened restrictions on assembly and freedom of speech, including proposed legislation to criminalize the disrespecting of China's national anthem.