Hong Kong is charging 44 protesters with rioting in connection with a demonstration that turned violent on Sunday. If found guilty, they reportedly could face up to 10 years in jail.
Demonstrators marched from a park in Hong Kong's central business district to the Chinese government's Liaison Office, where the peaceful protest turned into a confrontation between demonstrators and the police.
"For hours Sunday, the protesters and police clashed on the two main thoroughfares that run through central Hong Kong Island," NPR's Julie McCarthy reported. "Demonstrators hurled bricks, paint-bombs and bottles. Riot police responded with volleys of tear gas ... and reportedly rubber bullets."
In a statement announcing the charges, Hong Kong police accused protesters of "peace-breaching acts." Protesters set up "roadblocks by umbrellas, wooden planks, bamboo sticks and railings; pried up pavement bricks, demolished roadside fences, damaged street signs and lampposts as well as attacked police officers at scene with lethal weapons such as bricks and sharpened iron rods," the statement said.
Police said they arrested "49 persons comprising 32 men and 17 women, aged between 16 and 41." Of those, 44 were charged with rioting and a 24-year old man was charged with "possession of offensive weapons."
They "included 14 students and seven clerks. Others had jobs such as being a chef, nurse, electrician and construction worker. Five were unemployed," the South China Morning Post reported.
The demonstrations were sparked by a controversial bill that would have allowed people accused of crimes to be extradited to mainland China for trial. After weeks of mass street protests, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on July 9 that the extradition measure is "dead," admitting that the government's handling of it was a "total failure."
Hong Kong protest leaders are not satisfied and say the bill should be formally withdrawn. They also want the resignation of Lam, the city's chief executive; an investigation into police and gang violence toward demonstrators; and the ability to directly elect the city's leader and some seats on the Legislative Council.
When Britain returned Hong Kong to China 22 years ago, China employed a "one country, two systems" principle, allowing the city to retain its own legal system, currency and civil service. Since then, fears have grown that Beijing is attempting to subvert that autonomy and erode democratic freedoms and the rule of law in the city.
A Chinese website quoted Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office spokesman Yang Guang as saying that protesters in Hong Kong are committing "evil and criminal acts" that damage the city's stability.
"Violence will not be tolerated in any civilized society and society of rule-of-law, Guang said at a news conference Tuesday. He added that "Hong Kong is part of China, and its affairs are of domestic concern alone."
But last week, leading pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong told NPR, "We should determine our own destiny instead of the Hong Kong people's future being dominated by Beijing. ... When 2 [million] out of 7.5 million people joined the mass protests, it showed the Hong Kong people deserve democracy. We are not afraid of the Communist regime."
All of the people charged with rioting are expected to appear in the Eastern Magistrates' Court on Thursday.
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