Hong Kong protesters battle with police

Hong Kong protesters have clashed with police in a town near the boundary with mainland China, where thousands rallied against the presence of Chinese traders.

The demonstration in the Hong Kong territorial town of Sheung Shui, not far from the Chinese city of Shenzhen, began peacefully on Saturday but descended into skirmishes and shouting.

Protesters threw umbrellas and hardhats at police, who retaliated by swinging batons and firing pepper spray.

Most demonstrators had retreated by around 8:30pm (local time) as police in riot helmets and wielding large shields swept through the town to reclaim the streets.

The protest was the latest in a series that have roiled the former British colony for more than a month, giving rise to its worst political crisis since its 1997 handover to China.

Sometimes violent street protests have drawn in millions of people, with hundreds even storming the legislature on July 1 to oppose a now-suspended extradition Bill.

The Bill would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to China to face trial in courts under ruling Communist Party control. Critics see the bill as a threat to Hong Kong's rule of law.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam this week said the Bill was "dead" after having suspended it last month, but opponents vow to settle for nothing short of its formal withdrawal.

Protests against the bill had largely taken place in Hong Kong's main business district, but demonstrators have recently begun to look elsewhere to widen support by taking up narrower, more domestic issues.

In Sheung Shui, protesters rallied to oppose small-time Chinese traders who make short trips into the territory to buy goods that they then haul back to China to sell.

The demonstrators chanted demands in Mandarin, China's official language, for the Chinese traders to go home.

Many street-level shops were shuttered during the march. 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.

"Our lovely town has become chaos," said 50-year-old Ryan Lai, a resident of Sheung Shui, where so-called "parallel traders" buy bulk quantities of duty-free goods to be carried into mainland China and sold.

"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."

Reuters