Hong Kong protesters target traders from mainland China

Renewed clashes broke out between protesters and police in Hong Kong on Saturday, as thousands of demonstrators marched on the streets taking aim at traders coming across the border from mainland China.

The march took place in Sheung Shui, a Hong Kong district not far from the mainland city of Shenzhen. The demonstrators were protesting against Chinese traders exploiting Hong Kong's no-sales-tax regime, by making short trips to the territory to buy goods that they then haul back to China to sell.

Read more: Hong Kong protesters: 'We will stand together and never give up'

The traders have long been a source of anger among those in Hong Kong who say they have fuelled inflation, driven up property prices, dodged taxes and diluted Sheung Shui's identity.

On Saturday, the protesters chanted slogans in Mandarin asking Chinese traders to go home. Many shops were shuttered during the march.

"Our lovely town has become chaos," 50-year-old Ryan Lai, a resident of Sheung Shui, told the Reuters news agency. "We don't want to stop travel and buying, but please, just make it orderly and legal. The extradition bill was the tipping point for us to come out. We want Sheung Shui back."

In recent years, there has been a backlash against the influx of mainland tourists and immigrants, with more hardcore Hong Kongers describing them in derogatory terms such as "locusts."

About a million mainlanders have moved to Hong Kong since its 1997 handover. This has become a major source of tension in the notoriously overcrowded city which already boasts one of the world's most expensive property markets.

Saturday's demonstration began peacefully, but later broke down into skirmishes and shouting. While protesters threw umbrellas and hardhats at security personnel, police retaliated by using pepper spray and batons.

Read more: Hong Kong protests pit the city's young against the old

A summer of unrest

The protest was the latest in a series that have roiled Hong Kong for more than a month. The government's decision to introduce a controversial extradition bill triggered mass protests in the territory, giving rise to its worst political crisis since its 1997 handover to China.

Critics see the bill as a threat to Hong Kong's rule of law. The legislation would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to other places, including mainland China, where courts remain under the control of the ruling Communist Party.

The sometimes violent street protests have drawn in millions of people, with hundreds even storming the city's legislature on July 1 to oppose the now-suspended bill.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam recently said the bill was "dead," but opponents vow to settle for nothing short of its formal withdrawal.

The anti-extradition demonstrations over the past month seem to have reawakened other movements in Hong Kong.

The protests have a common refrain: Hong Kong's government, led by a non-democratically elected chief executive, is not addressing the people's concerns.

When the UK returned Hong Kong to China 22 years ago, Chinese Communist leaders promised the city a high degree of autonomy for 50 years. But many say Beijing has been increasingly tightening its grip, putting Hong Kong's freedoms under threat.

sri/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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