Clashes erupt when police try to clear Hong Kong protesters after Uyghur support rally

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Hong Kong: Hong Kong riot police sprayed protesters to disperse the crowds in the heart of the city’s financial district on Sunday after a largely peaceful demonstration in support of China’s ethnic Uyghurs became chaotic.

Dozens of policemen marched through a public square overlooking the port of Hong Kong to confront the protesters who threw glass bottles and rocks at them.

In the early afternoon, more than 1,000 people had gathered calmly, waving Uyghur flags and posters, while participating in the last demonstration in more than six months of riots.

A mixed crowd of young and old, dressed in black and wearing masks to protect their identities, showed signs that read “Uyghur free, Hong Kong free” and “False autonomy in China results in genocide.”

The protest comes after midfielder Mesut Ozil of the English football club Arsenal caused a furor in China after criticizing the country’s policies towards the Muslim ethnic minority in the northwest Xinjiang region.

Ozil, a German Muslim of Turkish origin, tweeted that the Uyghurs were “warriors who resist persecution” and criticized both China’s strong hand in Xinjiang and the relative silence of Muslims in response.

“I think that basic freedom and independence should exist for all people, not just for Hong Kong,” said a 41-year-old woman named Wong who attended the protest with her husband.

United Nations experts and activists say that at least 1 million Uighurs and members of other largely Muslim minority groups have been detained in camps in Xinjiang since 2017 under a campaign that has been condemned by the United States and other countries.

Beijing says it is providing vocational training to help eradicate separatism and teach new skills. Deny any abuse to the Uyghurs.

Protests in Hong Kong are now in their seventh month, although in a relative year-end break. Many residents are angry at what they see as the Chinese interference in the promised freedoms to the former British colony when they returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula established at that time and has blamed foreign forces for fomenting the riots.

On Saturday, Hong Kong riot police entered several shopping centers, chasing and arresting protesters who pressed their demands on the shopping weekend before Christmas.

The violent repression of the police against demonstrations and the frequent use of tear gas has outraged many protesters, whose demands include full democracy and an independent investigation into perceived police brutality.

The protests, which began in June, have led Hong Kong’s economy to recession. Retailers and businesses have been badly affected as tourists stay away amid transportation interruptions.

The city’s financial secretary, Paul Chan, in his blog on Sunday, said there could be a wave of business closures in the new year if market conditions do not improve.

“Many companies are now clenching their teeth and fighting to keep their businesses,” he said, adding that he hoped the violence would stop.

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