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Hong Kong pro-democracy rally ends early as violence erupts

A man stomped on a burning Chinese flag during Saturday’s protest in Hong Kong.
A man stomped on a burning Chinese flag during Saturday’s protest in Hong Kong.Vincent Thian/Associated Press/Associated Press

HONG KONG — A massive pro-democracy rally Saturday in downtown Hong Kong ended early after violence broke out, with police firing tear gas and a water cannon after protesters threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at government buildings.

Police said in a statement that “radical protesters” lobbed gasoline bombs and damaged property outside the government offices and aimed laser beams at a helicopter, posing “a serious threat to the safety of everyone’’ in the area.

The violence was a familiar scene that has been repeated since protests for democratic reforms started in early June in the semiautonomous Chinese territory. It also came three days before a major march is planned on the day China celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party taking power, sparking fears of bloody clashes that could embarrass Beijing.

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Organizers said 200,000-300,000 people attended Saturday’s rally, while police did not immediately give a turnout figure. The rally was called to mark the fifth anniversary of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, in which protesters occupied key thoroughfares in the downtown area for 79 days beginning Sept. 28 to demand direct elections for the city’s leaders but failed to win any government concessions.

More than 1,000 protesters streamed onto a main road, with some targeting government buildings that were barricaded. Police initially used a hose to fire pepper spray after some demonstrators threw bricks. Police later used a water cannon truck to fire a blue liquid, used to identify protesters, and fired tear gas after protesters lobbed gasoline bombs through the barriers.

Many protesters used umbrellas to shield themselves and retreated but returned after that. Scores of riot police poured onto the road and protesters later fled. Police continued to patrol the streets and searched people leaving the area.

‘‘We think we will lose because their force is so strong,” said one demonstrator, 22-year-old Sang Chan. ‘‘But if we don’t do anything now, we’ll have no other chance.”

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A 32-year-old protester who would give only his surname, Chau, said the demonstrators hope to wear down the government. ‘‘It’s like a marathon to see who gets tired first,’’ he said.

Protesters are planning global “anti-totalitarianism” rallies on Sunday in Hong Kong and more than 60 other cities worldwide to denounce what they called ‘‘Chinese tyranny.”