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Police fire tear gas, arrest protesters in latest demonstration in Hong Kong

Police fire tear gas, arrest protesters 
in latest demonstration in Hong Kong

DPA
Hong Kong
Riot police deployed tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets and made arrests as they forcefully dispersed a largely peaceful police-approved rally 90 minutes after it began on Sunday afternoon in Hong Kong’s Central District. 
Organisers estimated that 150,000 had gathered ahead of the region’s primary holiday, Chinese New Year, to protest Mainland China’s ongoing crackdown on human rights at home and abroad, when a squad of tactical police known as “Raptors” fired tear gas towards a section of the crowd.  
A frenetic exit ensued as thousands attempted to leave the crowded protest site. At least two journalists in high-visibility press vests were tackled by riot police and others were pepper-sprayed as police cleared the streets.   
The police public relations branch later notified the press that the event was “suspended” due to the actions of a “group of rioters” who had committed acts of “arson, road blockage and even brutal attacks on police officers who were speaking with the organiser of the public event.” 
The force said that two plain clothes officers were attacked by “rioters” after they asked the event’s organiser, activist Ventus Lau, to end the rally prematurely due to illegal acts taking place nearby.  Hours later police arrested Lau, for “incitement” and for allegedly violating the terms of the police’s “Letter of No Objection” for the rally by allowing overcrowding. 
Addressing reporters after the dispersal, Lau said that the overcrowding was a result of police having issued an assembly permit rather than a march permit as requested, and that clashes would not have broken out if plain clothes police had properly displayed their identification cards while asking organisers to end the event.  “Everything happening today is the consequence of a collection of mistakes committed by the police,” Lau said.
The rally began peacefully, though protesters had angrily criticised police for stationing a water cannon vehicle meant for crowd control approximately 20 metres from the approved protest area and for conducting widespread stop-and-search and identification checks.   At the start of the rally, masked demonstrators exchanged “lai see,” or red envelopes, traditionally given during the Chinese New Year holiday, adapted to fit the themes of the anti-government protests that have rocked the city since June. 
A protester named Kellog Wong said he would be sending out separate red envelopes for the first time this year: envelopes for his pro-democracy acquaintances would be printed with the icons of the protests, while envelopes for his colleagues would be printed with traditional good luck symbols from the Chinese zodiac. 
Wong said he believes the holiday has taken on a new, more collective meaning this year “because of how united Hong Kong people are currently, because in the past we were all celebrating for ourselves or our own family and now we are all united by what we are trying to achieve.”
The protests first broke out over a now-defunct extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in Mainland China, but the demands of the movement have grown to include electoral reform and an independent investigation into police violence against protesters.