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Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong police shoot water cannon as protesters set fires

Arrests of prominent activists seen as fuel for demonstrators

A demonstrator stands next to a burning barricade during a protest in Hong Kong on Aug. 31.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong police deployed water cannon and tear gas near the city's government headquarters Saturday as protesters held demonstrations for a 13th straight weekend, which many believe were fueled by the arrests of prominent pro-democracy activists the day before.

Police fired several rounds of tear gas and pepper spray near the city's legislative building as protesters hurled eggs and bricks at officers. The violence escalated quickly after protesters threw a petrol bomb, prompting police to use water cannon with blue dye.

Several people in black T-shirts set fires outside police headquarters around 7 p.m., TV footage showed, with flames quickly growing meters high. Thick black smoke blocked traffic on the main road before firefighters put out the blaze.

Demonstrators marched even though police had denied an application by the Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of this summer's largest marches, to hold one Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the issuance of a hard line statement on political reform by the Chinese government, which set off that year's "Occupy" protests.

The group on Friday canceled its planned march to Beijing's representative office in the city after it lost its appeal of the denial.

A protestor fetches an exploded tear gas shell, as blue-colored water is fired from water cannons in Hong Kong on Aug. 31.   © AP

Protesters sang gospel hymns Saturday to give their procession a religious cast, as such events are subject to fewer restrictions under Hong Kong law.

Live footage from near government headquarters showed protesters throwing tear gas canisters back at police who fired back water cannons and more tear gas.

"After repeated and futile warnings, police have deployed tear gas and minimum force to disperse the protesters," the Hong Kong police said in a statement. "Also, a petrol bomb was thrown into the police headquarters."

Tensions were high in the city coming into Saturday's demonstrations. Police on Friday arrested several opposition lawmakers and well-known activists including Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, co-founders of the pro-democracy party Demosisto. Critics said the high-profile arrests ahead of the planned march to Beijing's representative office was meant to create fear and to discourage people from taking it to the streets.

Hong Kong police, in preparation for potential attacks on the central government liaison office, closed the metro station near the building to keep protesters away.

Demonstrators take cover as police fires tear gas during a protest in Hong Kong on Aug. 31.   © Reuters

The protests started in June when the city government proposed a now-suspended extradition bill to parliament. The legislation would have enabled criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, has called the bill "dead," but has not withdrawn it completely. As well as demanding the retraction of the bill, demonstrators have added other conditions such as an amnesty for those arrested over the protests and universal suffrage. 

The protests have spread to other causes, including strikes by workers in the transportation sector.

Protesters are also urging students and workers to strike on Monday and Tuesday, and are encouraging workers and students to participate in gatherings in Kowloon and Hong Kong island.

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