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More Hong Kong protests planned as U.S. raises travel warning

HONG KONG (Reuters) – The United States raised its travel warning for Hong Kong, urging increased caution by visitors to the Chinese territory in the face of what it described as civil unrest after months of sometimes violent street protests.

People watch the dots of laser pointers move across the facade of the Hong Kong Space Museum during a flashmob staged to denounce the authorities’ claim that laser pointers were offensive weapons in Hong Kong, China August 7, 2019. Picture taken with a slow shutter. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The protests in the Asian financial hub began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law and have evolved into a direct challenge to the city’s government and calls for full democracy.

“The protests and confrontations have spilled over into neighborhoods other than those where the police have permitted marches or rallies,” said the advisory, posted on the website of the U.S. state department on Wednesday.

“These demonstrations, which can take place with little or no notice, are likely to continue,” it added. The advisory was raised to level two on a four-point scale.

Australia also warned its travelers in an updated advisory.

The protests pose the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. Xi is also grappling with a debilitating trade war with the United States and a slowing economy.

Hong Kong is facing its worst crisis since it returned to China from British rule in 1997 because of the protests, the head of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office has said.

More protests are planned in several districts across the city this weekend, starting on Friday, with demonstrators also planning a three-day rally at the city’s international airport.

Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam visited Hong Kong districts on Wednesday to speak with residents and inspect a police station that had been the target of recent protests.

The government would put forward measures to improve people’s livelihoods, she said in a statement after the visit.

FURTHER DEMONSTRATIONS

Young people have been at the forefront of the protests, angered by broader problems, such as sky-high living costs and what they see as an unfair housing policy skewed towards the rich.

The normally efficient and orderly city has seen its transport network besieged and shut down by demonstrators, while protests have also shut big-brand stores and popular shopping malls.

Hong Kong police have arrested 589 people since the protests began in June, the youngest aged 13.

Three masked activists, who did not give their names, held a second news conference on Thursday, broadcast on domestic television channels, to discuss what they called abuse of power by the police.

“The continuation of such attempts at spreading fear and suppressing the freedom of press will eventually backfire on the government itself,” one activist told the Citizens’ Press Conference, a platform protesters are using to voice concerns over the situation in Hong Kong.

“The ultimate victim of these tactics will be the police force’s crumbling public image,” added the activist, who spoke in English.

The comments came after plainclothes police arrested a student leader from Baptist University on the grounds that laser pointers he bought were offensive weapons.

Several thousand Hong Kong lawyers, dressed in black, marched in silence on Wednesday to call on the government to safeguard the independence of the city’s department of justice.

They fear the justice department’s prosecutions of arrested protesters are taking on an increasingly political slant. Many of those arrested have been charged with rioting, which carries a 10-year jail term.

Protesters have started to use increasingly diverse tactics to evade capture, shifting quickly from place to place and using online platforms such as Telegram to direct hundreds of people.

They also circulated brightly-colored pamphlets online ahead of the airport demonstrations, aiming to help tourists understand events, in which they vowed never to surrender.

“Dear travelers, please forgive us for the ‘unexpected Hong Kong’. You’re arrived in a broken, torn-apart city, not the one you have once pictured. Yet the city you imagined is exactly what we are fighting for,” the pamphlets said.

Reporting by Farah Master and Felix Tam; Editing by Paul Tait

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