China warns Hong Kong protesters of severe repercussions

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China issued a stark warning to the "behind-the-scenes masterminds" on Tuesday over continued demonstrations in Hong Kong, saying that "those who play with fire will perish by it."

At a press briefing in Beijing, Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said that central government has "immense strength" and that punishment for those behind the demonstrations is "only a matter of time."

Yang added that the "radical protests... have severely impacted Hong Kong's prosperity and stability, pushing it into a dangerous abyss."

He also had a firm warning for the "criminals" behind the protests: "Don't ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness."

People power

Earlier on Tuesday, a group of activists wearing masks and hard hats held a press conference in the Mong Kok neighborhood of the city. They urged the city's leader Carrie Lam to "return power to the people and to address the demands of Hong Kong citizens."

The three activists, who declined to give their real names, said the group "was not affiliated with any political party or organization leading the movement."

One of them added: "We strongly condemn the police for the series of violent acts and urge them and the government not to be enemies against the public."

Escalating unrest

The protesters are seeking the resignation of Carrie Lam. In addition, they are angry at proposals which would allow case-by-case extraditions of alleged criminals to mainland China. The Chinese government recently shelved the plans in the wake of the demonstrations.

However, unrest has continued, if anything with more fervor than before, as protesters call for expanded democratic rights and further autonomy.

Police said Monday's figures reached a new high with the largest daily toll of arrests since the protests began.

"During the operation yesterday, the police arrested 148 people consisting of 95 males and 53 females, aged between 13 and 63 years old," superintendent John Tse said.

Lam warned the region was nearing a "very dangerous situation," as she said the protests challenge China's sovereignty.

"I dare say they are trying to destroy Hong Kong," said Lam.

Erosion of rights

The crisis has become the biggest threat to China's control of the region since its handover from the British in 1997.

Under the terms of the deal with Britain, Hong Kong has rights that are different to those on mainland China, such as an independent judiciary and freedom of speech.

But many say those rights are being stymied.

Protesters point towards the extradition to the mainland of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy leaders.

jsi/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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