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By Natasha Khan and John Lyons
HONG KONG--Police fired tear gas and used rubber bullets on protesters in Hong Kong, in an attempt to drive away thousands of demonstrators who had blocked roads and forced the closure of the city's legislature before lawmakers could debate a controversial extradition bill.
Protesters--many of them clad in goggles, face masks and helmets--fled to different areas, running through plumes of smoke. Some hurled objects at police. Further back from the barricades, protesters rapidly ferried umbrellas, gloves, bottles of water and sodium chloride to treat injuries from pepper spray through the crowd to the front.
Police said in press briefing that some protesters had hurled weapons such as metal barriers and bricks at officers, leaving them with no choice but to contain the crowds with rubber bullets, tear gas, batons, pepper spray and beanbag guns.
Trouble erupted midafternoon Wednesday, when hundreds of protesters attempted to push barricades north toward the city's harbor, then retreated under a bridge after police deployed tear gas against them.
Earlier, crowds of mostly young people, some dressed in black and wearing face masks, dragged metal barriers and linked arms across roads surrounding government headquarters, in scenes reminiscent of the 79-day street protests that paralyzed parts of downtown Hong Kong in 2014.
All access roads leading to the central government offices, which house the legislature, were blocked, the government said in a statement.
Some financial services were also disrupted. HSBC Holdings PLC closed two banking-service outlets in the Admiralty area until further notice, while other banks including Standard Chartered PLC, Bank of East Asia Ltd. and China Citic Bank Corp. temporarily suspended operations at branches near the protest area.
Debate on the extradition bill was postponed earlier Wednesday. Lawmakers had been due to start debate on the bill so a vote could be held by the evening of June 20. In an unusual move Tuesday, Andrew Leung, president of Hong Kong's mostly pro-government legislature, scheduled extra sessions for the bill to proceed more quickly than usual to a vote.
In a statement Tuesday in Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) offered support for the protesters, saying the proposed law imperils U.S.-Hong Kong relations.
"If it passes, the Congress has no choice but to reassess whether Hong Kong is 'sufficiently autonomous' under the 'one country, two systems' framework," Mrs. Pelosi said in the statement.
The renewed protests follow a mass demonstration Sunday that organizers say drew a million people. That march failed to derail the proposed legislation. The city's leader, Carrie Lam, on Monday said she would press ahead with the bill quickly. The government already bypassed the usual scrutiny of the new legislation by a committee of lawmakers.
Ms. Lam's deputy, Matthew Cheung, urged protesters to disperse, saying in a video address Wednesday that the bill is necessary to prevent Hong Kong from turning into a "haven for criminals" and the government would take precautions to safeguard human rights.
Large groups of activists using the encrypted messaging service Telegram had deployed hundreds of helmets, gloves, cable ties and surgical masks to help with the construction of barricades and to protect protesters against tear gas and pepper spray.
Most of those taking part said they did so spontaneously, filling roles where assistance was needed during the day. Some protesters mounted tram stops nearby, relaying messages and requests for equipment across the heads of the crowd.
Keith Liu, a student running a station distributing supplies, said that he didn't believe the protests could prevent the bill from passing, but that he felt compelled to register his dissent.
"We still have to come out here. We have to fight for ourselves," he said.
Opposition to the proposed law has emerged from many corners of society, including businesspeople, lawyers and activists, who say the changes would undermine Hong Kong's relative autonomy and independent judicial system.
The State Department on Monday said the bill, if passed, could "subject American citizens residing in or visiting Hong Kong to China's capricious judicial system."
The opposition bloc in the city's legislature has been weakened after authorities ousted several democratically elected lawmakers through court orders and barred others from running.
"The government needs to acknowledge that my voice matters," said Candy Wong, a 27-year-old shop assistant who said she was angered after authorities pressed ahead with the bill even after more than a million people--including herself--took to the streets in protest. Ms. Wong took a day off to join the rally. "If I didn't come today by next week I may no longer have the freedom to do so."
Joanne Chiu and Mike Bird contributed to this article.
Write to Natasha Khan at email@example.com and John Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 12, 2019 05:10 ET (09:10 GMT)
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